BRUSSELS/LUXEMBOURG -- The European Union on June 25 opened new chapters in the accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia, bringing the two countries a further step closer to joining the bloc.
The bloc opened two chapters for Serbia, covering fisheries as well as financial and budgetary provisions.
It brings the total number of chapters opened between Belgrade and Brussels to 14 out of a total of 35.
Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, said the opening of the two chapters was a "merit-based achievement of Serbia."
Speaking at an EU-Montenegro intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg, Hahn also insisted on the need for Belgrade to "intensify the pace of reforms particularly on the rule of law" and to nomalize relations with Serbia's former province, Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and is recognized as a sovereign state by more than 110 countries but not by Belgrade.
The EU also opened one new chapter with Montenegro on economic and monetary policy, bringing to 31 the total number of chapters open for the country.
"Within chapter 17, we will resume the process of aligning with European regulations and standards, which will result in a more open, successful, and [Europeanized] economy," Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic said in Luxembourg.”
Serbia and Montenegro are the Western Balkan countries closest to joining the EU.
Accession negotiations, which take years, are split into 35 chapters covering areas such as the economy, energy, rule of law, and human rights, to help the joining country align its practices with European Union standards.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has said that there will be no more enlargement of the EU during his term, which ends in 2019, but that after that, expanding into the Balkans is vital to maintain "stability in our neighborhood."