European Union nations have provisionally agreed to open membership talks with Serbia by January at the latest, acknowledging Belgrade's efforts to improve relations with breakaway Kosovo and push through overall reforms.

EU ministers agreed on the recommendation late Tuesday, said Ireland's Deputy Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore. A summit of government leaders starting Thursday is overwhelmingly expected to endorse it.

The move rewards Serbia for an agreement normalizing relations with Kosovo, a potentially landmark deal that could end years of tensions between the Balkan antagonists.

Serbia's neighbor Croatia will join the EU on July 1.

Serbia hopes that the talks will pave the way for foreign investment and unblock access to the bloc's pre-entry funds.