Serbia took a historic leap when European council granted it the status of candidate for admission to the European Union.
The decision to grant Belgrade the EU status is a first but crucial step in an often long and rocky road to the full membership.
This is a remarkable achievement," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference after the meeting. "I hope it will encourage Serbia to make further efforts."
Serbian President Boris Tadic welcomed the EU\\\’s decision, saying it paves the way for "economic advance and prosperity".
"However, lot of work is ahead of us in order to launch the negotiations on the EU membership which is the next step after obtaining the status," he added.
Serbia had been expected to get EU candidacy in December after it captured two top war crimes suspects, an issue that had long been a source of tension.
But Germany put the brakes on the move, demanding Belgrade do more to improve relations with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Last week, Serbia and Kosovo reached a key breakthrough when Belgrade agreed to allow Kosovo to use its flag at regional meetings and sign international agreements like a fully recognized nation.
The two sides also agreed to jointly manage their flash-point border, the scene of clashes in recent months between NATO peacekeepers and Serbs who make up the majority in northern Kosovo.
Serbia was isolated for much of the 1990s after its then-leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was blamed for starting the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo.
Serbia had applied for the EU member status in 2009. Other candidate countries include Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey.