During her first informal meeting with Albanian journalists in February, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, the chief of the Independent Observation Mission (ONM) that provides external expertise to the vetting process, stated that she would “resist politicization.” This was supposed to mean that we should stay away from any Albanian internal politics, and would not allow herself to become involved (and compromized) in the way that nearly other foreign emissary has been. This necessarily meant that she would stay far away from associating with any Albanian politician.
This political neutrality already was put in serious doubt when Ruiz Calavera announced the creation of Management Board of the ONM. Several politicians, including then Minister of Justice Petrit Vasili, claimed that the Management Board was unconstitutional, and through the inclusion of US Ambassador Donald and EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin would needlessly politicize the work of the ONM. In spite of the objections, Ruiz Calavera pushed through her initiative, gathering backup from EU officials.
And even though presiding over a body of experts that will in the coming months “observe” the unfolding of the vetting of the judicial branch of government, Ruiz Calavera has also at the same time remained in her position as Director for the Western Balkans in the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG-NEAR).
In this role, she is closely connected to the Albanian government and the EU accession process, for example when she recently co-chaired the 8th Stabilisation and Association Committee meeting between Albanian and EU officials in Brussels together with Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Eralda Cani.
According to a statement on the website of the DG-NEAR,
The European Commission welcomes the positive progress to date in all areas and underlined the need to see tangible results, notably on justice reform and the vetting of judges and prosecutors, and to continue the progress in all key priorities, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, including cannabis cultivation and trafficking, public administration reform and fundamental rights.
Beyond the five key priorities, the European Commission stressed that there are other important issues to be tackled. In particular the Commission acknowledged the commitment of the Albanian authorities in tackling the phenomenon of unfounded asylum applications to EU Member States and urged them to pursue the steady continuation of efforts to address the issue.
In other words, as Director for the Western Balkans in DG-NEAR, Ruiz Calavera is necessarily in frequent contact with the Albanian government about the progress regarding the EU priorities. As was clear from the progress report of 2016, the European Commission is in general much more positive about Albania’s progress than the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers, in part for the simple reason that without enlargement of the EU many EU bureaucrats would lose their jobs, especially at DG-NEAR. The blind spots of the European Commission for the behavior and policies of Prime Minister Edi Rama over the last few years have been glaring, especially in relation to the five key priorities, which were underplayed and neglected by EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin until reality could no longer be denied.
Different from the experts in the ONM, ONM chief Ruiz Calavera has a personal interest for the vetting to be considered a success and a fulfilment of one of the five conditions for the opening of accession negotiations. This is an interest that derives from her function as director at DG-NEAR. This interest, and the interest of the European Commission in general, is also what underlies the cited DG-NEAR statement, which in no way mentions the serious threats posed by the Albanian government to the rule of law. This in turn means that Ruiz Calavera, because of her double position, is de facto politicized, and that the role of the ONM is politicized as a consequence.
Therefore if Ruiz Calavera truly wants to be a credible and independent chief of the Independent Observation Mission, she needs to remove herself from the EU negotiations with Albania and focus on the real work at hand: making sure that the judicial reform does not turn the justice system into an extension of the executive branch.