BELGRADE (Reuters) - The European Union said on Friday it was a priority to open the first chapters in accession negotiations with Serbia by the end of the year, after a delay caused by foot-dragging in relations between Belgrade and its former Kosovo province.
The EU formally launched membership negotiations with Serbia in January 2014, following a landmark deal to regulate relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
But since a first formal accession conference, none of the so-called negotiation chapters have been opened, because of failure to fully implement the Serbia-Kosovo deal.
"It is a priority for the European Union to open chapters this year," the bloc's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told a news conference in Belgrade. "I cannot at this stage define when and which chapters we will be ready to open.
"There is some work to be done here, there is some work to be done in Brussels and in the capital cities, but I think that we share a common engagement to do it before the end of the year."
Serbia is impatient to begin in earnest the process of aligning legislation with the 28-nation EU in preparation to becoming a member.
But implementation of the deal with Kosovo has been slow, in part because of how politically unpalatable some of the elements are, as well as the absence of a government for six months in the former Serbian province.
Serbia, a landlocked country of 7.3 million people, wants the boost of membership talks to help attract foreign investors to its struggling economy. Actual accession, at this rate, is unlikely before 2022.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Writing by Matt Robinson)