By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Kosovo took a step towards possible European Union membership on Tuesday, signing a trade and political pact with Brussels less than a decade after unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia.
"It is a milestone in our mutual relationship, in particular for the European aspirations of Kosovo," EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn said during the signing ceremony in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The pact comes despite the fact that EU states Spain, Cyprus, Romania, Greece and Slovakia do not recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
The pact signed, known as a stabilization and association agreement, is a required step for every country that wants to join the EU. All Balkan countries have already signed similar deals with the EU.
The signature came after Kosovo had concluded talks with the EU in July 2014. The entry into force of the agreement is expected in 2016, EU officials said.
To allay Serbian worries, the EU seems ready to make concessions to Belgrade, launching long-stalled membership talks by the end of the year. Serbia still formally regards Kosovo as part of its territory.
"I am convinced (the agreement) is going to bring a lot of good to Kosovo's people, to the European Union and to the stability and integration of the region," EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini said during the signing ceremony.
"It is a very important day for us," Kosovo's Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said, committing to wide-ranging reforms in the fields of the rule of law and the economy.
"I hope the next step will be visa liberalization," Isa said. This would allow the nearly 2 million Kosovars to have easier access to EU countries, but this step is seen as very unlikely in the near future, as EU countries grapple with the biggest migrant inflow since World War II.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)