Motivation/ Introductory Statement
His German ethnicity is the very crux of this paper, since I am going to investigate how his German roots resulted in an identity projection in conducting and re-shaping the bilateral relations between Romania and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Klaus Iohannis – a presidential term that defies all odds
The election of Klaus Iohannis as a president of Romania is ubiquitous and has taken by storm the European politics, being not only a ground-breaking victory for the Romanian autochthonous politics, but also its Western counterparts, for ‘It is rare for any — certainly any East European — country to vote a member of the nation’s ethnic minorities to top political offices, never mind the presidency’1. His stellar rise from being mayor of Sibiu, Hermannstadt, where the largest group of the Siebenbürger Saxons live2, to being the incumbent of the presidential office at the Cotroceni Pallace went against all odds.
There is no series of objective and quantifiable factors that can be scrutinised so as to provide a grounded explanation for his success. First and foremost, it is the defiance of the statistical prospects of Mr. Klaus Johannis, for in the first round of elections he was severely lagging behind with no less than 10% to his main contender, the Socialist Democrat Victor Ponta3. Exist polls in the aftermath of the first ballot tour sporadically pointed candidate Klaus Johannis as having real chances to land the presidential office. However, the electoral arithmetic was debunked by the final results, when after an initial close run, the victory saw the first-round percentages inverted, Klaus Iohannis overtaking Ponta by 10%4.
Secondly, not even the calculations render Iohannis’s victory as striking, but his backdrop. In these respects, Klaus Iohannis is descending from the dwindling German minority of Romania. So, from being a mayor of the provincial city of Sibiu to the candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and, ultimately, the president of Romania, seems to be tantamount to impossibility, since it is highly uncommon in the majority of the European countries to elect a member of a minority to such a high-held official position. Yet, there were political signposts foretelling his successful transition from municipal leadership to being the Head of the State: ‘The fact that he won the election in 2000 and subsequently with a large majority, despite Germans constituting only a small minority in Sibiu (less than 2%) suggests a broad appeal transcending classic minority politics’5. Briefly, his achievement is a token of how minority-originating politicians can have a broader political appeal, that it is not solely confined to their community. Nonetheless, it is the very nature of his descendance – Germanic – that enabled him to go beyond the majority-minority divide, because were he to be a member of the internally-dissented Hungarian minority or the socially-ostracised Roma community, such an outcome would have been less likely.
Romanian-German status quo – prior and post 2014 presidential elections
2015, shortly after Klaus Iohannis entering office, marked 135 years of diplomatic relations between Romania ? in changing governing forms raging from authoritarian regime to a democratically-elected republic ? and the Federal Republic of Germany. Irrespective of the regime, ‘German minority’s interaction, contribution and participation within Romania’s political, economic and cultural life has always been very vivid and significant’6. Nonetheless, the Communist times elicited mixed feelings with respects to the Romanian-Germanic ties.
Initially, the economic relations established between the Socialist Republic of Romania and Eastern and Western Germany were flourishing in the form of joint ventures. On the flipside, Romania’s self-imposed isolationism in the 1980s soured the relationship. Due to a severe lack of currency to pay off the external debts incurred by the regime, ‘Ceausescu brought a «practical» touch to the issue of ethnic Germans leaving the country (also valid for Jews’ departures) asking amounts of money per capita for each individual’7. This denigrating action not only impinged on the German communities during Communist, but lingered even after the demise of the regime, with Germans continuing their exodus to the West.
However, the dawn of the 1990’s saw German pragmatism resurging, the current bilateral relations being dual in their purpose: economic and political. Currently, among the most important German investors are multinational companies like Draxlmaier, INA Schaeffler, ThyssenKrupp, Leoni Wiring Systems Continental, KG Wintershall, E.ON AG, Allianz, Praktiker, RWE (RRR-Remmert Recycling) alongside another half-dozen major players on the market8.
Unfortunately, the diplomatic relations cannot be seen through the same rose-tinted glasses. A prime example of Western skepticism towards the still nascent democracy in Romania was the Brussels-imposed Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) prior to the accession to the European Union, in 2007. And this yet to be dismantled instrument of judicial and political scrutiny is giving the German powers that be the argument to keep Romania waiting at the gates of the Schengen area. The Justice and Home Affairs Council on 7-8th March 2013 further buttressed the German intent to veto our acceptance in the Schengen, the negotiations being inconclusive9. Hence, Romania’s democratic deficiencies hinder its accession to Schengen in the eyes of our German partners, but can a change at the top of the political echelon, with Klaus Iohannis as a German ethnic at the helm of the country, stir politics in a different direction on the Bucharest-Berlin axis?
The end of 2013 prompted the German electorate to cast their ballot for the Bundestag. The Christian Democratic Union safely secured the majority of the seats in the Federal Parliament10, Angela Merkel’s chancellorship continuity possibly playing an instrumental role in rekindling better relations with Romania, via the German ethnic president of the same pan-European political affiliation11. A very straightforward token of support was the immediate congratulations coming from the German Chancellor: “I wholeheartedly congratulate you for obtaining the office of the Romanian presidency. We will support Romania with advice and actions regarding important reforms for your country and for the European union and we will continue to be a reliable partner. I am convinced that together we will be able to deepen our bilateral relations’12.
The timeline of bilateral relations in the aftermath of the presidential elections of November 2014 kicks off very timely, the Romanian President having an official meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in February 2015. The discussions were heavily focused on the Schengen Area accession, Klaus Iohannis underscoring that ‘we count on Germany’s support in identifying a solution that would allow moving forward toward achieving this goal’13. Underpinning his request for German support with the ‘European Commission’s latest CVM Report as well as Romania’s proven contribution to ensuring security in the region’14, Klaus Iohannis managed to strike an identity chord with Angela Merkel making Angela Merkel acknowledging that ‘we are very close culturally and economically. We are trade partners. Germany is an important force in Romania’15, also locking in the promise of advocating the Romanian and Bulgarian bids to Schengen to the other European partners.
1 MacShane, Denis. “Romania: The German Factor and a Continental Pattern.” The Globalist, 18 Nov. 2014, www.theglobalist.com/romania-the-german-factor-and-a-pattern/ .
2 Deutsche Welle. “Romania’s Ethnic Germans Get Their Day in the Spotlight | Europe| News and Current Affairs from around the Continent | DW | 18.11.2014.” DW.COM, 18 Nov. 2014, www.dw.com/en/romanias-ethnic-germans-get-their-day-in-the-spotlight/a-18072299 .
3 “Rezultate Finale 2 Noiembrie 2014.” Http://Www.bec2014.Ro, Biroul Electoral Central, 2 Nov. 2014, www.bec2014.ro/rezultate-finale-2-noiembrie-2014/ .
4 “Rezultate Partiale 16 Noiembrie 2014.” Http://Www.bec2014.Ro, Biroul Electoral Central, 16 Nov. 2014, www.bec2014.ro/rezultate-partiale-16-noiembrie-2014/ .
5 Bieber, Florian. “The Meaning of Klaus Iohannis’s Victory in Romania.” Florian Bieber’s Notes from Syldavia, 17 Nov. 2014, https://florianbieber.org/2014/11/17/the-meaning-of-klaus-iohannis-victory-in-romania/ .
6 Nine OClock, “135 Years of Diplomatic Relations between Romania and Germany: A Rich Tradition, a Dynamic Present”, 20 Feb. 2015, www.nineoclock.ro/135-years-of-diplomatic-relations-between-romania-and-germany-a-rich-tradition-a-dynamic-present/ .
7 Lupu, Victor. “Romanian-German Relations – Will the Iohannis Equation Change the Trend? (II).” The Romania Journal, 24 Feb. 2015, www.romaniajournal.ro/romanian-german-relations-will-the-iohannis-equation-change-the-trend-ii/ .
8 The Diplomat Bucharest. “German Investments in Romania: Companies Are Worried about Fiscal Measures and Infrastructure.” 25 Sept. 2017, www.thediplomat.ro/articol.php?id=8004 .
9 Council of the European Union. “PRESS RELEASE. 3228th Council Meeting. Justice and Home Affairs.” www.consilium.europa.eu, 8 Mar. 2013, P.10. www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/jha/135901.pdf .
10 “Federal Republic of Germany. Election for Bundestag.” IFES Election Guide, 22 Sept. 2013, www.electionguide.org/elections/id/555/ .
11 EPP – European People’s Party. “Leaders.” EPP – European People’s Party, www.epp.eu/about-us/leaders/ .
12 Topala, Andi, et al. “Angela Merkel Congratulated Klaus Iohannis”. Sursa Zilei, 19 Nov. 2014, www.sursazilei.ro/the-german-chancellor-and-the-german-president-congratulated-klaus-iohannis/ .
13 Purgaru, Dana. “President Iohannis in Berlin: Romania Counts on Germany’s Support to Identify Solutions to Move Forward toward Schengen Accession.” Nine O’Clock, 26 Feb. 2015, www.nineoclock.ro/president-iohannis-in-berlin-we-count-on-germany%E2%80%99s-support-to-identify-solutions-to-move-forward-toward-schengen-accession/ .