The European Union has set a date of 21 January for the start of accession talks with Serbia, rewarding the country for democratic reforms and its efforts to normalise relations with its former province, Kosovo.

In order to allow talks to begin Serbia has gone through a remarkable transformation from being a pariah among ex-Yugoslav states, punished for its role in the wars of the 1990s.

"This is a historic moment for Serbia," Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told state television.

Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds since Kosovo seceded in 2008 with Western backing.

After months of EU-brokered talks, the two sides reached an agreement in April aimed at ending the virtual ethnic partition of Kosovo between its ethnic Albanian majority and a pocket of some 50,000 Serbs in the north.

Croatia and Slovenia, Serbia's former peers in Yugoslavia, are already EU members.

It will still take years before Serbia is in a position to join them.