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Klaus Iohannis - Who is the New President of Romania?

Published: November 17, 2014; 17:00 · (Vindobona)

On November 16th, Klaus Iohannis was elected the fifth President of Romania. He is due to take office on 22 December. His presidential campaign focused on fighting corruption and on improving the justice system. Klaus Werner Iohannis is a Romanian politician, born 13 June 1959. He was elected the fifth President of Romania on 16 November 2014 (age 55). He became leader of the National Liberal Party in 2014, after having served as leader of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania from 2002 to 2013.

Klaus Iohannis - The New President of Romania / Picture: © Wikipedia / Miehs

Iohannis entered politics in 2000, when he was first elected as mayor of city of Sibiu, representing the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania. Although the German population of the once predominantly German-speaking city of Sibiu has declined to a tiny minority, Iohannis won a surprise victory and was re-elected by landslide votes in 2004 and 2008. Iohannis is credited with turning his city into one of Romania's most popular tourist destinations, and the city was declared a European Capital of Culture in 2007. In February 2013, Iohannis became a member of the National Liberal Party, accepting the invitation from Liberal leader Crin Antonescu, and was immediately elected as the party's First Vice President, becoming the party's President the following year.

In October 2009, four of the five political groups in the Parliament, excluding the Democrat Liberal Party of then-President Traian Băsescu, proposed him as a candidate for the office of Prime Minister of Romania; however, Băsescu refused to nominate him despite the Parliament's adoption of a declaration supporting his candidacy. He was again the candidate for Prime Minister of the National Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party in the elections in the same year.

Iohannis is a Transylvanian Saxon by ethnicity, and as such a member of the oldest of the groups among Romania's German minority, who settled in Transylvania in the 12th century. He is a physics teacher by professional background.

Personal and professional life

Born in a house in the historic centre of Sibiu, Klaus Iohannis is the eldest child of Susanne and Gustav Heinz Johannis. Iohannis has a sister – Krista. His parents, both Transylvanian Saxons, emigrated from their native Sibiu (German: Hermannstadt) to Würzburg in Germany in 1992, acquiring citizenship under the German Law of Return, as did many other Transylvanian Saxons after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

After graduating from the Faculty of Physics of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca in 1983, Iohannis worked as a high school teacher of physics at various schools and colleges in Sibiu, including, from 1989 to 1997, the Samuel von Brukenthal Gymnasium in Sibiu, the oldest German-speaking school in Romania. From 1997 to 1999, he was Deputy General School Inspector of the Sibiu County, and from 1999 until his election as mayor in 2000, he was General School Inspector, being the head of public schools in the county.

Iohannis is fluent in Romanian (at native level), German (native) and English. The original spelling of his name (which is German) is Johannis, but in Romanian, often the spelling Iohannis is used. Klaus Johannis uses both spellings himself. He has been married, since 1989, to Carmen Johannis, an English teacher at the Gheorghe Lazăr National College in Sibiu, and has no children.

He is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania, the German-speaking Lutheran church body in Transylvania.
Political career

He joined the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania in 1990, and served as a member of its board of education in Transylvania from 1997, and a member of the local party board in Sibiu from 1998. In 2001, he was elected President of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania.
Mayor of Sibiu

In 2000, the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (FDGR) in Sibiu decided to run him as a candidate for mayor. Despite the fact that Sibiu's German minority had shrunken to a mere 1.6%, Iohannis was elected with 69.18% of the votes and has won two re-elections in a row, obtaining some of the largest electoral scores in the country: 88.7% of the vote in 2004, and 87.4% in 2008 re-elections. He is the first ethnic German mayor of a Romanian city since Albert Dörr, who served from 1940 to 1945. The small German minority is popular in Romania, where they are often viewed as hard-working, precise and uncompromising. Many Romanians also remember that the country experienced some of its best moments under German kings over a century ago.

Throughout his tenure as mayor, he has managed to jump start the restoration of the town's infrastructure, the restoration of its historic center, and a tightening of the city administration. Iohannis is also widely credited with turning the city into one of Romania's most popular tourist destinations thanks to the extensive renovation of the old downtown. During his first term, Iohannis worked with a city council that had a social democrat majority.

Since 2004, during his second and third terms, his own party, FDGR, has the majority. Since 2008, FDGR has 14 out of 23 councilors, PDL has 4, PSD has 3, and PNL has 2.

Iohannis established contacts with foreign officials and investors. Sibiu was declared European Capital of Culture of 2007, together with Luxembourg (the bearer of the distinction in 1995). Luxembourg chose to share this honourable status with Sibiu due to the fact that many of the Transylvanian Saxons emigrated in the 12th century to Transylvania from the area where Luxembourg is today. Sibiu, or Hermannstadt in German, was built by the Transylvanian Saxons, was for many centuries the cultural centre of that group, and was a predominantly German-speaking city until the mid 20th century. Many Germans have left the city after World War II, and especially in 1990, within months of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

On November 4, 2005, Iohannis was nominated as the "Personality of the Year for a European Romania" (Personalitatea anului pentru o Românie europeană) by the Eurolink – House of Europe organization.
Candidate for Prime Minister of Romania

On October 14, 2009, the leaders of the opposition parliamentary groups (the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, and the group of smaller ethnic minorities), proposed Iohannis as a candidate for Prime Minister of Romania, after the government of Prime Minister Emil Boc fell a day before as a result of a motion of no confidence in the Parliament. Coming from outside the national-level politics of Romania, Iohannis has the image of an independent politician, although his party has consistently allied itself with, and Iohannis has campaigned in the latest European Parliament elections for the National Liberal Party. The National Liberal Party (PNL), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), and the group of small ethnic minorities in the Parliament subsumed Iohannis as their common candidate for Prime Minister of an interim government. On October 14, Klaus Iohannis confirmed acceptance of his candidacy. However, on October 15, the President Traian Băsescu nominated Lucian Croitoru, a top Romanian economist, as Prime Minister, and charged the latter with forming the country's next government.

After the second round of talks, a day before Croitoru's nomination, Băsescu noted: "Some parties have proposed Klaus Iohannis. I would like you to know that I have not rejected the possibility for him to become Prime Minister in the condition that my options would be directed towards other [national unity government] solutions. But I have rejected such a proposal because it comes from PSD or another party [PNL]", referring to his alleged constraint to consider a proposal of the largest party (PDL), constraint disputed by the other parties. The opposition criticized the President for not designating Iohannis. Social Democrat leader Mircea Geoană accused Băsescu of trying to influence the upcoming presidential elections by having them organized by a sympathetic government. Crin Antonescu, the leader of the National Liberals vowed his party would derail other nominations but Iohannis'. After the nomination of Croitoru, Antonescu, a candidate in the presidential election, stated that he would nominate Iohannis as Prime Minister if elected President. Three days later, on October 18, Geoană suggested Antonescu was trying to use Iohannis as an "electoral agent" for Antonescu's bid for president. In response, Antonescu told the press that Iohannis "is not the type of person that would let himself being used". Geoană and PSD leadership has held a second meeting with Iohannis in Bucharest in the evening of October 18. UDMR, which the previous day announced it would also attend, declared in the morning that all their leaders are not in the city. PNL was present at the meeting by lower level representatives, after Antonescu announced in the morning he is on campaign in Cluj-Napoca. On October 21, the Parliament adopted with 252 votes for (of PSD, PNL, UDMR and minorities groups) and 2 against a declaration requesting the President to nominate Iohannis as Prime Minister.

Candidacy for President of Romania

Iohannis stated in 2009 that it is possible he may in the future run for the office of President of Romania, although not in 2009. Former Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu said on October 27, 2009 and again on April 23, 2010 that he would like to see Iohannis become President of Romania.

In 2014, he was registered as an official presidential candidate for the November general elections. He received 30.37% of the votes in the first round.

In National Liberal Party

On February 20, 2013, Klaus Iohannis joined the PNL, announcing this during a press conference with Crin Antonescu. At a PNL extraordinary congress, he was elected First Vice President of the Party. In the meeting of 28 June 2014, he was elected President of the PNL with 95% of the votes.

PNL and PDL started in the summer of 2014 procedures to strengthen the political right. The two parties eventually merge under the Liberal Christian Alliance. On August 11, the alliance chose Iohannis as its candidate for the presidential election in November.

President-Elect of Romania

On November 16th, Klaus Iohannis was elected the fifth President Of Romania. He is due to take office on 22 December. His presidential campaign focused on fighting corruption and on improving the justice system.

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