Ranking Member Eliot Engel Opening Statement at Hearing, “Kosovo and Serbia: A Pathway to Peace”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democratic on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing, “Kosovo and Serbia: A Pathway to Peace.”

The statement follows:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to join your Subcommittee today. We both share a long-standing interest in the Balkans, and while I may disagree with some of your proposals regarding moving borders, I look forward to continuing our discussions on efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the region.

This hearing is particularly timely as it comes on the heels of an agreement reached between the Prime Ministers of Kosova and Serbia. I congratulate Kosova and Serbia for reaching this landmark agreement. In particular, I would like to recognize Prime Minister Thaci for his courage and willingness to make hard decisions and Prime Minister Dacic for his pragmatism and forward leaning vision. The personal involvement and leadership of EU Foreign Policy Chief Lady Ashton has been critical to this historic agreement. It sends a clear signal of hope to a region which longs for an end to conflict and to peoples who want to live their lives in peace and prosperity in the European Union. And, this is yet another affirmation of the fact that the Republic of Kosova is independent, sovereign, free, and permanent.

It has been nine-years since the EU declared at the Thessaloniki Summit that “[t]he future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia’s July entry into the EU validates this strategic vision. With last week's agreement, the EU is moving to buttress the confidence of the other Balkans states, including Kosova, that their day is near, and we learned once again that it is the shared aspiration of EU membership that binds the Balkans states together. The Kosova-Serbia agreement underscored the understanding that the region will only prosper when all the states of the Balkans have joined the European family.

The EU, as it now offers Serbia a date for EU accession negotiations, must also offer Prishtina what other Balkan countries have already been granted: a clear and transparent pathway to future membership. I would like to take a minute or two to discuss Kosova's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Brussels is working with Prishtina on moving Kosova toward a Stabilization and Association Agreement and toward Visa Liberalization where Kosovars would be able to travel freely to Europe as citizens of their fellow Balkan countries can already do. Unfortunately, the progress is halting and slow, and unlike its neighbors, every little step in Kosova’s progress with Brussels could face a veto by one of the five EU non-recognizers. While this makes the climb even steeper, it makes Kosova's accomplishments even more significant. In the end, we must ensure that Kosova be included in Europe along with its neighbors, because otherwise we would create a new black hole in the Balkans where our worst fears of crime, corruption, and worse could come true.

Kosova’s pathway toward NATO is equally important. Along with other countries in the region, Kosova's membership in NATO will cement its Western outlook while adding another strongly pro-American country to the Alliance. In fact, Kosova is the most pro-American country in Europe, according to a recent Gallup survey. Of course, membership in NATO requires Kosova to develop a military, and I am glad that we may see the early steps in that direction through the planning of a professional, defensive army later this year. As a sovereign and independent republic, Kosova has every right to build its armed forces, and it speaks highly of the new country that it plans to work closely with the United States and our European allies on the timing and organization of its defense forces. We must not buy into the irrational fears of some who express unfounded misgivings about a potential Kosova military considering the assurances that it will be small and defense-oriented. Regardless, I look forward to the day when Kosova's troops will stand side-by-side with American soldiers in the fight against international terrorism and other global ills.

Finally, I think it's long past time for the five EU hold-outs to recognize Kosova. Not only has the International Court of Justice accepted Kosova's declaration of independence as valid and legal, but with the Kosova-Serbia normalization agreement, there is no reason left for the continued intransigence. I hope the State Department along with European foreign ministries will now renew their efforts to bring about more recognitions.

There are certainly additional challenges which the new country must still address. Unemployment is high, corruption continues to place a drag on the economy, and inter-ethnic relations must continually be strengthened. At the same time, agreements between Serbia and Kosova must be fully implemented, and, as laid out in the latest accord, parallel structures in the north must either be eliminated completely or made a transparent part of the unified Kosovar state so that minorities can be treated fairly wherever they are.

Again, I would like to congratulate Kosova and Serbia for signing the agreement on normalization and offer my help to both countries in their efforts to join a Europe whole and free.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to offer my thoughts on this matter. “