The European Union is expected to sign an agreement with Kosovo next week, paving the way for the accession of the Balkan country to the bloc, officials said October 20.
The move, which is seen as also helpful in bringing Serbia closer to the EU, may cause concern in some EU member states struggling with internal separatist movements.
Spain, Cyprus, Romania, Greece, and Slovakia have not recognized Kosovo since its secession from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after its majority ethnic Albanians waged a guerrilla uprising against Belgrade.
But this did not prevent them in the past giving their authorization to the start of EU negotiations with Kosovo, with an eye towards helping quell nationalist tensions in the Balkans.
Kosovo concluded talks with the EU in July 2014 for a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a step on the path to eventual EU membership that can carry economic benefits.
Next week the EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn will sign the accord, officials said. It is to take effect next year.
"The signature of the agreement will reinforce Kosovo's European perspective and also help domestic stabilization," an EU official said.
This comes despite Kosovo's scant progress in key policy sectors.
"The rule of law in Kosovo, including judicial independence, and limited results in the fight against organized crime and corruption, remains a major concern," the European Commission said in its last report on Kosovo a year ago.
A new step towards EU membership for Kosovo is also a matter of concern in Serbia, which still formally regards Kosovo as part of its territory. To allay Serbian worries, the EU seems ready to make concessions to Belgrade.
"I am confident that the first two chapters with Serbia [for accession to the EU] can be opened by the end of the year," a top EU official said.
Chapters are policy sectors where a candidate to EU membership has to show alignment with EU rules before it can join the bloc.
For Serbia to join the EU, 35 chapters on topics ranging from fundamental rights to economic issues need to be opened and successfully closed with the unanimous support of member states.
The EU admitted most of the former Communist states of eastern Europe between 2004 and 2007. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc in 2013.
Besides Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Turkey are candidates to join the EU.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP