Romania's political rift deepens with dispute over embassy in Jerusalem

President and prime minister are at odds over whether they should follow the US lead


The political rift in Romania’s leadership has deepened after the government defied President Klaus Iohannis by objecting to a draft European Union statement criticising the move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Mr Iohannis summoned Prime Minister Viorica Dancila and Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu to explain why Romania has joined the Czech Republic and Hungary in blocking the EU statement.

With Austria, the four EU member states were represented at Monday’s opening ceremony of the embassy in Jerusalem.

Mrs Dancila, who leads a centre left cabinet of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), criticised Mr Iohannis, who is from the centre right National Liberal Party (PNL), for initially summoning Mr Melescanu without first informing her.

Last Saturday the president accused the government of not informing him of the stance Romania would adopt on the Jerusalem embassy at the EU.

“This is the second time that they have tried to carry out improvised foreign policy and it has gone badly, very badly,” Mr Iohannis said.

“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.

Mr Iohannis had asked for Mrs Dancila’s resignation last month after PSD leader Liviu Dragnea suggested following the US lead in moving Romania’s own embassy to Jerusalem, a suggestion endorsed by the prime minister during a visit to Israel.

But the president was forced to deny he was antisemitic and issue an apology after remarking: “Who knows what secret deals Mr Dragnea makes there with the Jews?”

Much of the spat is driven by domestic politics, with Mr Iohannis locked through parliamentary arithmetic in a bitter cohabitation with the PSD government, which he accuses of trying to overturn tough anti-corruption laws adopted in the past following EU pressure.

Mr Iohannis was elected in 2014. When the PSD won parliamentary elections two years later, the president refused to accept Mr Dragnea’s nomiantion as prime minister, forcing him to relinquish the role to Mrs Dancila.

Mr Dragnea was convicted in 2016 of vote rigging in a 2012 referendum and is still serving a suspended prison sentence which, according to the president, bars him from cabinet posts.

Opposition supporters see Mrs Dancila as Mr Dragnea’s puppet in a proxy war with Mr Iohannis who is looking towards re-election in 2019, when he could face the PSD leader in a runoff.

Mr Dragnea and his nominally centre-left party have adopted more nationalistic and eurosceptic views by courting President Donald Trump and aligning themselves with former communist countries like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary in opposing EU directives for member states, such as the intake of Middle Eastern refugees.

The US embassy move to Jerusalem is another episode in a political conflict that promises to become even more bitter in the run up to presidential elections in November 2019.

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