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EU to greenlight Montenegro membership talks

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(BRUSSELS) - EU leaders will approve the opening of negotiations with Montenegro on joining the bloc at a summit this month otherwise dominated by eurozone problems, draft conclusions seen by AFP on Wednesday said.

"The European Council will endorse the decision to be taken by (European affairs ministers) on 26 June, to open accession negotiations with Montenegro," say the "guidelines" for ambassadors negotiating the final agreement for the June 29-29 meeting in Brussels.

Summit conclusions are negotiated by "sherpas" in advance of final talks between national leaders.

"We said in May that Montenegro was making the required efforts," the spokesman for EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, Peter Stano, told AFP on being told of the draft's contents.

"We were hoping for the start of negotiations before the month was out, after twice already making the recommendation."

Sources said there had been some "hesitation" on the part of key EU member states during talks among ambassadors, with the Netherlands -- a longtime block on Serbia's accession due to concerns over war crimes prosecutions -- and France said to have raised various queries.

However, almost two weeks before the council of foreign and European ministers that has to rubber-stamp such decisions, the very fact of Montenegro's inclusion in prepared official declarations at the level of head of state indicates it is now all but a done deal.

Balkans neighbour Croatia is set to become the 28th member state of the crisis-hit European Union on July 1, 2013, but Serbia -- after years of uncertainty -- has still only secured "candidate status," awaiting the formal go-ahead for accession talks.

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