The deal between Prishtina and Belgrade over Northern Kosovo was a big success for Europeans and in particular for High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Europeans have pushed hard for normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Prishtina, and although five EU member states still do not recognise Kosovo, they did not prevent major progress in 2013. The breakthrough on the critical issue of Serb-majority municipalities in Northern Kosovo is a big success story for the EU and in particular for High Representative Catherine Ashton. Under the landmark deal reached in April, after 10 rounds of talks, Serb-majority municipalities north of the Ibar are to be integrated into Kosovo but granted wide-ranging autonomy in areas such as policing and justice. Local elections in November and December, including in the north, were the first serious test. Trouble in Northern Mitrovica forced a repeat of the first round, but roughly a fifth of the Serbs turned up at the polling stations, making the elections legitimate. Candidates supported by the government in Belgrade won overwhelmingly across Serb municipalities in both the north and south. In September, Belgrade and Prishtina also reached a deal on telecommunications and energy.
The normalisation process is linked to progress on EU enlargement. The European Council rewarded Belgrade for the deal with Kosovo by taking a conditional decision to open membership talks by January 2014. Meanwhile, in October, Kosovo was given the opportunity to launch negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which, if all goes smoothly, could be finalised as early as the spring of 2014. Thus significant progress was made with Kosovo despite the absence of complete unity on recognition of Kosovo. This was possible because the Lisbon Treaty allows the EU to conclude an SAA without having to involve member states as signatories. Prishtina continued to implement an EU roadmap of reforms tied to the promise of visa liberalisation.Member states that made a particular contribution to progress in 2013 included Austria, France, Germany, Italy (whose new foreign minister, Emma Bonino, made her first foreign visit to Serbia and Kosovo), and the UK.