Kosovo welcomes EU support for talks as 'milestone'

Kosovo on Wednesday welcomed news that the European Union was prepared to open its doors to the Balkan territory, along with Serbia, as a "milestone".

"Yesterday's recommendation... marks an important milestone for Kosovo and the region," Kosovo's foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj told journalists during a visit to Ljubljana.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said Tuesday that the bloc would formally adopt on Friday a mandate to start talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo, a first step towards membership.

EU ministers also recommended that Serbia begin accession negotiations by the very latest in January 2014.

"The recommendations of the EU's general affairs council are very important for Kosovo but also for the Balkans," Hoxhaj said.

"Without having a clear perspective for Kosovo towards membership, our independence cannot flourish. We can develop our economy and our society just in the European context."

Kosovo -- which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 -- struck an historic agreement with Belgrade in April to normalise their ties.

"The European perspective could be the main motivator for Kosovo and Serbia to implement the agreement on the ground," Hoxhaj said.

Brussels has made clear that both sides must implement the accord before moving forward on the road to eventual EU membership.

Croatia's entry into the EU on July 1 -- the second former Yugoslav state only to do so -- will also "create a new moment, a new energy" for Kosovo and the region, Hoxhaj said.

He said he was told that Egypt on Wednesday had become the 100th state to recognise Kosovo, adding that the move showed that Kosovo was on an "unstoppable course" of global recognition.

Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs refuse to recognise the independence of Kosovo, although the United States and all but five EU members are among those countries to have done so.