Romanian president in new foreign policy spat with government

Bucharest (AFP) –


Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Saturday clashed with the government over its Middle East and EU policies Saturday, lambasting them as "improvised" and bad for the country.

Iohannis, who hails from the centre-right, spoke out after the left-wing government refused to back a proposed joint EU statement condemning US President Donald Trump's decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The foreign ministry said the text "lacked balance" and that, together with Hungary and the Czech Republic, Romania had refused to sign it but agreed to a compromise whereby it could be issued in the name of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and not on behlaf of all 28 member states.

"This is the second time that they have tried to carry out improvised foreign policy and it has gone badly, very badly," Iohannis told reporters.

"Suddenly we are once again thrown onto the margins of EU, next to countries for which I have the utmost respect, but which are quite Eurosceptic," he added.

Iohannis previously clashed with the government over the issue last month when the ruling party floated the idea of Romania following the US's lead and moving its own embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Iohannis said no transfer could take place before Israelis and Palestinians agreed on the city's status, stressing that decisions about Romania's missions abroad were in any case his prerogative as president.

He has also been at loggerheads with the government over its judicial reforms which critics, including the EU, say will weaken judicial independence and the fight against corruption.

The latest spat came as some 4,000 anti-government demonstrators gathered in Bucharest's central Victory Square for a protest called "We want Europe, not dictatorship" and unfurled a large EU flag.

"The danger of stepping further away from Europe is real, we can see that with every decision they make," said 38-year-old lawyer Radu Ropota, referring to the government's repeated clashes with Brussels.

"They have shown us that they only care about themselves and that's frustrating," he added.

"I think that we can not go down as a country without us, the people, having something to say," said Marius Dulan, a 32-year-old graphic designer.

The protestors' criticisms echo those of Iohannis, who said that the government's "anti-European policies... risk pushing us out of Europe".