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EU grants Montenegro candidate status

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(BRUSSELS) - The former Yugoslav state of Montenegro took a leap forward Friday in its bid to join the European Union after the bloc's leaders gave it formal status as a candidate country.

"This is a strong signal of our commitment to the future of the Balkans," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference after a two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

The two sides will now have to fix a date to begin long negotiations in which candidate countries are required to implement changes to fall in line behind EU policies.

The EU has already granted candidate status to Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Macedonia.

Montenegro's candidacy "underlines the conviction within the European Council that the countries of the Western Balkans have a European vocation," said EU president Herman Van Rompuy.

Last month an annual report on the state of play of the enlargement process said Montenegro needed to work to bring up to EU standards its administration, police and the judiciary.

Montenegro applied for EU membership in 2008, two years after separating from Serbia. The country also wants to join NATO.

EUROPEAN COUNCIL 16-17 DECEMBER 2010 - CONCLUSIONS

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