The European Union has signed a long-awaited stabilization agreement with Kosovo, establishing closer ties and opening the way to membership for the small Balkan country.
EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini and Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in Strasbourg on October 27.
"Once implemented, [the agreement] will bring more economic prosperity, legal certainty, government accountability, and political stability to the people of Kosovo," Mogherini spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
A stabilization agreement is a first step for non-EU countries on the long road toward membership of the bloc, which currently includes 28 nations.
It requires the EU candidate to ensure that its governance and civil society mechanisms -- for example, on human rights and the judiciary -- are brought up to EU standards.
Diplomatic sources told AFP that some member states had reservations about Kosovo's rights record, but they felt it was better to have them on board so as to help stabilize the volatile Balkans region.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after years of tensions following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.