VIENNA (Reuters) - The EU is set to start accession talks with Serbia very soon,
the 28-nation bloc's enlargement commissioner said on Thursday at a Western Balkans summit in Vienna.
"The atmosphere is such that we should very soon start official accession talks with Serbia," EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said after Serbia and its ex-province Kosovo acted to help overcome decades of animosity.
They signed energy and telecoms pacts on Tuesday after EU-mediated talks in Brussels. Under the deal, Serbs in northern Kosovo will enjoy greater rights and be able to manage some issues such as the local economy and education, and have access to funding from Belgrade.
Serbia's hopes of opening the first chapter in EU accession talks hinge to a significant extent on it improving relations with Kosovo. The former Serbian region declared independence in 2008 almost a decade after an insurgency in which NATO intervened with air strikes to stop killings and expulsions of Kosovo Albanian civilians by Serbian security forces
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said at the Vienna summit that launching accession talks would be the best way to help Belgrade deal with an influx of migrants from conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Since the start of 2015, he said, some 94,000 migrants mainly from Syria and Afghanistan have registered in Serbia after transiting EU states such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.
Most of them want to go on to more affluent western EU countries such as Germany and Sweden by crossing from Serbia into Hungary, the start of the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel. But Hungary has begun building a 175-km (110-mile) fence along the frontier to try to halt the influx.
"There is no need to wait for ...any other date next year. Instead of erecting walls, open accession talks," Dacic said
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Western Balkan countries need to work on improving conditions in their own countries since 40 percent of refugees arriving in Germany had arrived from such states.
Germany expects to receive 800,000 migrants this year.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasrall and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich)