Serbia opened the first two chapters in its accession negotiations with the European Union on Monday evening, nearly two years after the negotiations were formally launched.
"I congratulate the citizens of Serbia on this great success. This is an important and great day for us, one of the historic days. We do not have to dream about the European Union anymore, now we only have to work hard, and if we do that, we will be part of the European family," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said at an intergovernmental accession conference in Brussels.
Speaking at a press conference, he also congratulated the people of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on this success. "This is also an important day for our people in Republika Srpska and I congratulate them as well on behalf of the government of Serbia."
Serbia opened Chapter 32 on financial control and Chapter 35 which deals with the normalisation of relations with Kosovo. During the accession process Serbia is required to reach a legally binding agreement on the complete normalisation of relations with Kosovo, its former province, which some see as full recognition of Kosovo by Serbia.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said before the conference that a country intending to join the EU cannot be in conflict with its neighbours.
When asked by the press if at the end of the accession process Serbia would have to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, Hahn said: We will see over the next few years. We are only at the start of the process. It is important that both countries, both Serbia and Kosovo, accept the principle of not blocking each other on the EU path.
Vucic said that his government was aware of the hard work lying ahead, but expressed confidence that Serbia could do its part of the work by 2019, after which it would be up to the EU to decide when it would admit Serbia as a member.
Vucic thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for honouring her promise that the first chapters would be opened as soon as Serbia fulfilled the necessary conditions.
Serbia was awarded membership candidate status in March 2012 and accession negotiations were formally declared open on 21 January 2014 after an EU-brokered agreement to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina was reached.