It appears that the temptation to stand in the media spotlights and become one of well-known internationals insistently commenting on the progress of Albania on the way to the European Union has claimed a new victim: International Monitoring Operation (ONM) Chief and Director of the Western Balkans for DG NEAR, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera.
On February 8, 2017, Ruiz Calavera gave her first press conference in Albania, in which she made clear that the ONM would have a purely advisory role in the vetting process, and that she would “resist politicization.”
Moreover, she made clear that the ONM will not talk with the press, declaring that “the only voice that will be commenting on our work is the public website.”
However, over the last few months, Ruiz Calavera has shown that she is becoming increasingly imprudent, and that her work for the European Commission risks interfering with her strictly “neutral” function as chief of the ONM.
This includes her recent appearance at EU–Western Balkans Media Days, in which she took part in a “grand panel” to discuss the future of press freedom in the Western Balkans, which is a highly politicized subject in part due to constant attacks of Prime Minister Edi Rama on the press.
The most recent example is an extensive interview for Deutsche Welle. With this interview, Ruiz Calavera breaks her promise to the Albanian people that she would stay silent on the work of the ONM, and only provide factual information about the progress of the vetting on its website. By breaking this promise she has compromised the neutrality and integrity of the ONM mission.
For in the interview, Ruiz Calavera shows herself to be yet another mouthpiece of the European Commission, rather than the chief of group of politically neutral and professional observers:
I am very happy that the operation of the vetting have started and that together with the progress in the five key priorities will open the door for a next step that Albania will take in the process of European Integration. I don’t want to say when this will happen: in next spring or summer, because it depends on the progress in the vetting process and 5 priority areas.
It is not the role of the chief of the ONM to “be happy” and say whether the vetting allows a “next step” or not for Albania.
In her first press conference in February, she explicitly stated that she wanted to avoid political utilization of her work by any of the parties in the vetting process. These parties include both the EU and the government, and it will only be a matter of time, before Prime Minister Rama will start using Ruiz Calavera’s statements for his own political ends – which will mean the end of her neutrality and open the possibility of attacks on the ONM by the opposition.
Furthermore, Ruiz Calavera, unnecessarily, decided to openly take the side of EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, choosing to support the European Commission’s claim that the criticism of Ambassador Vlahutin and the functioning of the EU Delegation in Tirana, also voiced in Exit, would be related to a resistance to the vetting process.
We have encountered resistance to the process from the beginning. Our Head of Delegation of the EU in Tirana has been the subject of denigrating campaigns, slander and completely baseless attacks. I am realistic that the vetting will touch the financial interests of individuals who unjustly enriched themselves and it will not be an easy process. I expect fake news, half-truths, slandering campaigns, and denigrating attacks against me.
After she supported the freedom of the press to critically investigate those who are in power during the EU–Western Balkans Media Days, this is a remarkable statement, because Ruiz Calavera herself claimed in front of the entire Albanian press corps of the establishment that she would give no interview, and not speak a word about the vetting as long as it continued. But now she did, and in this interview she has verbatim repeated all the accusations of EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin against criticism in the Albanian press as “fake news,” an accusation that was later happily repeated by Prime Minister Rama in his attack on the Albanian media.
Ruiz Calavera perhaps doesn’t realize that whatever she says in the Albanian media will be used against her by any of the political parties involved. That is why her initial decision, to say nothing at all, was the sign of wisdom and understanding of the thoroughly partisan Albanian political and media landscape. Her total silence, in fact, gave a sense of hope. Because the best way to protect the essential neutrality of the vetting process, and especially the ONM, is to remain silent and do the work.
But with this interview in DW she lost most of her credibility as a neutral factor in the vetting, because of her unnecessary support for an EU Ambassador that should be able to save herself and withstand criticism on her own – by providing facts and being transparent toward the media, two things that Vlahutin has been unwilling or unable to do.
Answering another question of DW, whether “there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Ruiz Calavera declared:
We wouldn’t spend so many fonds from the EU budget, so much energy, and so much of our credibility, if we didn’t think that we would achieve that which we expect at the end of the process.
I will not linger on the irony of this statement, but the interview itself shows that she has very little credibility left to spend.