European Union leaders granted Serbia candidate status at a two-day summit that ends Friday focusing on jobs and the economy in the region.
The Brussels summit has been a relatively low-key event compared to last year's crisis meetings aimed at stemming the eurozone's financial problems. The European Union's 27 leaders approved Serbia's candidacy to join the block. Serbia has made a number of democratic reforms demanded by the EU and captured war-crime suspects.
EU president, Herman Van Rumpoy, hailed the candidacy as a "remarkable achievement" and linked it to improved relations with Kosovo.
"I hope it will encourage Serbia to undertake further efforts in order to meet the political and economic criteria for the EU membership," he said. "It is also my hope that Belgrade will continue to support regional cooperation and neighborly relations in the western Balkans."
Much of this Brussels summit has focused on getting the EU's struggling economies back on track. The block has delayed by a week another installment of bailout funds for one of its frailest members - Greece - but members praised new austerity measures enacted by Athens.
Arriving at the summit on Friday, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the block was moving from crisis management to focusing on longer-term issues.
"Finally Europe, and state and heads of governments, will be able to talk Europe and Europe's future and not only about crisis," Grybauskaite said.
The leaders face big challenges on the economic front. The EU's statistical service reports that unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone has risen to its highest level since the introduction of the euro more than a decade ago. Inflation is also on the rise. Protests against austerity measures erupted in several European countries ahead of this summit.
On Friday, EU leaders focused on foreign policy issues, including the uprising in Syria.