Klaus Iohannis was elected President of Romania in 2014 and since then he has been a strong defender of a democratic, fair and European-facing Romania. From tackling corruption to taking the reigns of the European Union as EU Council President, over the last five years President Ionnis believes that Romania has matured and undergone profound changes. Part of Romania’s German minority, he is the first Romania president to come from an ethnic minority and here he discusses Romania’s strategic relationship with Germany. Though his term is coming to an end in November 2019, Iohannis, the former mayor of Sibiu, is eligible for reelection and makes clear his vision for a second term as president.
What have been some of the main achievements during your term?
It was an honor for me to be elected President of Romania. I thank the Romanians for their vote in 2014 and for their support throughout these five years when our country has faced a number of huge challenges. The last two years were particularly hard because PSD, the Romanian ruling party, has tried to impose legislative changes which, if put into practice, would have thrown Romania totally off its ongoing track. Through my actions, the ones of the parliamentary opposition and through the citizens’ mobilization, Romania succeeded in preserving its pro-European and democratic course and this seems to me the most important achievement of my term.
Romania in 2019 has a vibrant and active democracy made up of committed citizens who, in the elections for the European Parliament and the referendum on justice on May 26, stated loud and clear that they belonged to the European Union and rejected the corrupted and retrograde political forces. I am very proud of my country, and the two main priorities of my mandate addressed precisely these concerns. The first, to uphold the fight against corruption, to strengthen the rule of law and to preserve the independence of the judiciary. The second, to consolidate Romania’s role within the European Union and to represent our country in the European institutions with dignity. Close to the end of my term now, I can say I have succeeded in fulfilling both of these priorities.
Besides these two cardinal directions, very soon after I had taken over my mandate, at my initiative, all the parliamentary political parties signed the National Political Agreement on increasing defense financing – a pledge for the allocation of 2% of GDP for defense. Additionally, I launched a broad public consultation on the way the educational system in Romania ought to ensure that young people are adapting to the current challenges of society. This project, which I called “Educated Romania”, is not a mere alteration of the legislative framework, it is a visionary document.
Close to one year ago, you declared that you would be running for a second term as President of Romania. As the election draws closer, what would you describe as your main program points for a second term as President of Romania for a second term?
Since the beginning of my term, my vision for Romania was to build a strong and prosperous country, where the projects we have started are finalized, where the law is the same for everyone, and where people are appreciated and fairly paid for their work. Romanians want the same things as the Germans or any other European citizens do: to live a prosperous and safe life in a country able to provide all the necessary premises to build a good future for themselves and for their children.
After almost five years, during which Romania has faced many challenges, I am pleased to say that many things have changed and this vision has started to gain shape. Obviously, for this vision to come into being it takes time and a consistent change of paradigm, so that it results in the reform of the main public systems, healthcare, education and infrastructure. My second mandate as President will naturally follow this track, continuity being absolutely necessary in order to successfully conclude what we have already started to build. Within Romania’s constitutional architecture, the President of the Republic does not have all the executive institutional tools at hand to be able to move things in the desired direction. Nevertheless, by the power the voters bestow, the President can assume this vision as a national goal and can bring together all those who share it in order to make it turn into reality.
These are some of the elements outlining my overarching vision for my second term as President of Romania. Beyond these aspects, to support the fight against corruption, to guarantee the independence of the judiciary system and the rule of law will continue to be key priorities of my mandate. As for international relations, I will follow and consolidate the main directions of foreign policy I have consistently worked for in the last five years: deepening the Strategic Partnership with the US, enhancing Romania’s role and place within the EU and NATO, as well as developing the other strategic partnerships of our country.
What is your evaluation of Romania’s performance as President of the Council of the EU?
Romania took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the main goal being to contribute to a more cohesive, united and stronger union. This approach has been visible during this semester. We have advanced the European Agenda in an inclusive manner, with Romania acting as an honest broker and succeeding to achieve impressive results. We have reached many of the objectives included in our Work Programme. We have succeeded in finalizing negotiations on more than 90 legislative files. Of those files, I will highlight only a few: the Natural Gas Directive, the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, the Regulation establishing European Labour Authority, the Consumers Package, Council Conclusions on securing free and fair elections with a focus on countering disinformation, Council Conclusions on artificial intelligence, and Council Conclusions on the 2030 Agenda.
Regarding the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, we continued the substantial work launched in January on the horizontal elements of the next EU budget and on the sectoral legislative proposals. Our main approach has been to ensure that all Member States take part in the process of identifying the best options ahead, which led to a revised version of the Negotiating box. Furthermore, the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council helped to further streamline the functioning of the European Single Market and to pave the way to a more competitive and sustainable European economy. We also launched the dialogue on the creation of a strong European industry based on artificial intelligence technologies and managed to achieve progress in the social area by finalizing the remaining parts of the European Labour Authority Regulation.
With regard to migration, the Romanian Presidency has facilitated reaching a partial general approach on the Returns Directive and advancing discussions on the temporary arrangements. Moreover, the Romanian Presidency succeeded in adapting its actions to the challenges of a dynamic marked by Brexit, which was among the main challenges on the European political agenda.
Finally, the highlight of our Presidency was, of course, the Sibiu Summit on May 9, during which the EU leaders committed to the so-called “spirit of Sibiu” for a stronger and more united Europe. As reflected in the 10 commitments we agreed upon in Sibiu, I strongly believe we should remain united, determined and effective in our efforts to implement the new EU Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024 and achieve results for the benefit of all European citizens. Romania is strongly committed to reaching this goal.
Germany is one of Romania’s major economic partners as well as an important ally in both NATO and the EU. How would you say that the German-Romanian relationship has developed during your Presidency?
I am particularly proud that Romania and Germany share a special relationship, with a strategic character, stemming not only from the respect of the democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms but also from our joint strong commitment to the European project. Romania’s privileged bilateral relation with Germany is translated into a dynamic political, economic and security relationship, friendship and broad people-to-people ties to the benefit of our citizens.
The last years were particularly dense in political and diplomatic contacts between Romania and Germany. I, personally, had numerous meetings not only at the level of Federal President and Chancellor, but also with members of the Bundestag and federal and local governments with the objective of enhancing the cooperation between the two countries.
Germany is Romania’s biggest trading partner. In 2018, the bilateral trade in goods and services totaled nearly €32.5 billion, which accounted for one-fifth of our foreign trade, with Romanian exports of €15.6 billion and imports of €16.9 billion. The trade is relatively balanced, which means the two economies mutually profit from their competitive advantages. It is important that commercial exchanges between Romania and Germany mostly consist of goods with high added value. For instance, the electronic equipment and the automotive industry products represent about two-thirds of the total amount of exports to Germany. In 2018 alone, car production in Romania increased by 30%, which is the highest growth rate in the European Union. However, we must not feel too comfortable, and we have to try and capitalize as best as we can on our competitive advantages in the automotive and IT&C industries.
Germany is also a key foreign investor in Romania, with over 22,800 companies set up in our country. Altogether, Romanian affiliates of German firms employ nearly 280,000 Romanian workers. We are determined to further develop the significant economic potential by attracting more German investors, especially in the areas of innovation and new technologies.
I would also like to emphasize the instrumental role of the German minority in Romania who, together with the Romanians living in Germany and the ethnic Germans originating from Romania, serve as a true facilitator for our bilateral and European cooperation. The German minority has always been a reliable partner and a genuine contributor both to strengthening the Romanian-German relationship and to supporting Romania’s democratic transition and its European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Romania attaches great importance to preserving and promoting the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of the Romanian citizens belonging to the German minority, including through a constant and open dialogue at the bilateral level. In this context, I would like to recall the fruitful meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel and I had on May 9, immediately after the informal Summit on the future of Europe I had the privilege to host in Sibiu, with the representatives of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania. Moreover, I believe that the Joint Intergovernmental Committee for the German ethnics living in Romania, which this year convened in Sibiu on June 13, has served as a very useful platform for dialogue on this topic. I am truly proud to serve as a President of Romania, being at the same time a member of the German minority of my country.
As Romania is concluding its first ever mandate at the helm of the Council of the European Union, Germany remains one of our closest friends and allies in Europe. It is during Germany’s EU Council Presidency that Romania became a fully-fledged Member State and I would like to emphasize that the last six months have represented yet another opportunity for our countries to work closely together beyond our bilateral cooperation with the aim to building on the core values of the European Union – unity, cohesion and solidarity. I am confident that Romania and Germany will continue to act as key pillars of a stronger European Union that is closer to its citizens, better equipped to successfully overcome current and future challenges, and able to foster peace, prosperity and predictability.
With your Presidency coming to an end this year, how would you summarize it?
To put it in a few words, during this mandate Romania began to change profoundly. The citizens were the most important partners in keeping the country on its European course. The huge asset of these years is that, compared to 2014, Romanian society is much more mature and active, much more committed and pays closer attention to the quality of the people it elects to represent it politically. And this makes me very proud of my fellow Romanians. Thirty years after the fall of communism, the democratic and European option is stronger than ever in Romania.