Five western Balkan countries have won assurances from European Union leaders that they will one day be able to join the bloc. But most observers say they face a long struggle to achieve the necessary political and economic reforms.

EU leaders told their Balkan counterparts that the future of Europe's most unstable region depends on whether it can integrate itself into the European Union in the years ahead.

The EU promised an additional $240 million to the region, in addition to more than $7 billion it has already committed. But it warned the five Balkan states: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia and-Montenegro, that rampant corruption and organized crime remain big obstacles to their joining the Union.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana announced that the government in Belgrade agreed to hold talks next month with representatives of Kosovo in what could be a potential breakthrough toward resolving the future of the troubled Serbian province. But diplomats say the talks will not take up the issue of Kosovo's final status.

Kosovo, like the rest of the western Balkans, has been torn apart by ethnic rivalries, which still smolder, even though the conflicts that broke up Yugoslavia ended some time ago.