European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday that Serbia must solve its dispute with Kosovo and implement a series of reforms before it can join the European Union.
Juncker said following talks with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic that the Balkan country is on the right path, but that the EU cannot accept any new members with unresolved territorial issues.
"Serbia has already covered an impressive part of the (EU) path," Juncker said, before adding that a number of problems "still have to be solved."
He singled out the need for judicial reforms and improvements in the rule of law before Serbia and others can join the EU.
Juncker is visiting Serbia as part of a tour of the Western Balkans nations aspiring to join the bloc at a time Russia is looking to bolster its influence in the region, particularly in Serbia.
The visit comes after the EU drafted a new expansion strategy that envisages Serbia and Montenegro could be the next to join the bloc in 2025.
Vucic said he's urging compromise with predominantly-ethnic Albanian Kosovo, whose 2008 declaration of independence following a 1998-99 war Belgrade does not recognize.
"We need a compromise or we will continue to live in the past," Vucic said.
Juncker said the EU is seeking a "legally-binding" agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, but that the scope of the deal is up to the two nations. The EU is helping out in the talks on normalizing ties between the two.
Juncker has already visited Macedonia and Albania. He will travel to Montenegro before proceeding to Kosovo and Bosnia. His trip ends with an EU summit with regional leaders in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 1.