The European Union set a date of Jan. 21 for the start of accession talks with Serbia on Tuesday, rewarding Belgrade for democratic reforms and its efforts to normalise relations with its former province, Kosovo.
To win the green light, Serbia has gone through a remarkable transformation from being a pariah among ex-Yugoslav states, punished for its role in the wars of the 1990s. It will still take years before Belgrade is ready to join the bloc.
"This is a historic moment for Serbia," Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told state television.
Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds since Kosovo seceded in 2008 with Western backing. After months of EU-brokered talks, the two sides reached an agreement in April aimed at ending the virtual ethnic partition of Kosovo between its ethnic Albanian majority and a pocket of some 50,000 Serbs in the north.
Out of Serbia's former Yugoslav peers, Croatia and Slovenia are EU members.