Finally, the best way to consolidate democracy, prosperity, and security is for Kosovo, and indeed all countries in the region, to integrate fully into Euro-Atlantic institutions. The opening of negotiations with the EU was an important first step, but the EU needs to expedite the visa liberalization process to allow Kosovars to travel freely to the EU — a right enjoyed by citizens of all of its neighbors. The EU must also provide Pristina a clear path to eventual membership, unobstructed by extraneous political burdens, and help Kosovo meet the EU’s requirements.
Similarly, Kosovo deserves a pathway toward NATO. All other Balkan states are either NATO members or in the alliance’s Partnership for Peace, and it would be unfair to exclude Kosovo, one of the most Western-oriented countries in the world. In the near-term, NATO should extend an invitation for Kosovo to join the Partnership for Peace, as it has done for virtually every other state throughout Europe. Denying Kosovo a route to eventual NATO membership would only maintain an island of instability and uncertainty in the region. Conversely, a Kosovo integrated into NATO would mean a region at peace and a military configured to fulfill alliance objectives rather than preparing to meet the challenge of significantly better-armed neighbors.
Of course, membership in the EU and NATO are not free. Kosovo will need to do the hard work to meet the requirements of both organizations, and its road will be even steeper because of possible opposition from member states which, unfairly and unconstructively, still do not recognize Pristina. But I have every confidence that Kosovo, with its growing support, will succeed.
The United States has stood by Kosovo as its people have triumphed over incredible adversity, and I look forward to seeing our partnership continue to flourish, as Kosovo builds a prosperous and secure democracy within a Europe whole, free and at peace.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y. is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.