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Klaus Iohannis: 'Romania must make the most of its opportunities'

After Sunday's upset win, Romania's newly elected president, Klaus Iohannis, aims to bring about long-awaited change. In a DW exclusive, he tells Lavinia Pitu about the historic victory and his plans for the future.

Klaus Iohannis, Romania's newly elected head of state, has been compared by his countrymen to US President Barack Obama. Iohannis, a center-right ethnic German and Evangelical Lutheran in a predominantly Orthodox country, has promised to guarantee rule of law and eradicate corruption. In an interview with DW's Lavinia Pitu, he spoke of his spectacular victory and how he plans to bring about a long-awaited change in Romanian politics.

DW: Voters gave you a clear win in Sunday's presidential election, despite poll predictions that gave current Prime Minister Victor Ponta the edge going into the vote. How did you achieve this spectacular swing in opinion? Political analysts are calling it a historic victory.

Klaus Iohannis: In my opinion, people's mobilization, the fact that we had such a large and unexpected turnout, is what makes it historical. The whole world could see the devotion of Romanian citizens to democracy and freedom. It was impressive. Secondly, I think I broke down prejudices of what politics in Romania can look like and what can be done. And people understood that. Their votes and the massive turnout given us a clear message: Romanians want a significant change in the way politics is done.

Präsidentschaftswahlen in Rumänien 16.11.2014

Voters chose to back Iohannis and his plans for a "different Romania"

A different Romania "where things are done properly" - this was your slogan in the election campaign. What should your country look like?

In concrete terms, my vision is that of a strong and prosperous country, where everyone does his job, where projects are completed to standard, where the laws are valid for everyone, where politicians and institutions serve the people. Together, we can build the Romania we're hoping for. I campaigned with 11 topics on my agenda, which require social and political consensus. Among them, my vision on the large public systems - health, education, pensions but also the economy.

You promised to guarantee the rule of law in Romania and to eradicate corruption. How should that work with a hostile social-democratic majority in parliament? Ponta has often feuded with outgoing President Traian Basescu over the past two years. What can you change? And what will you keep?

I think that the president plays a central role in guaranteeing the rule of law and the independence of justice, and this includes carrying on with the fight against corruption. These are essential matters, important for the Romanian democracy, and must be understood by all governments and all political parties. Regardless of who holds majority in parliament at a given moment, these issues require political consensus, not only on a declarative level but also by taking action.

During my first speech after the runoff, I made this clear and asked the political parties to demonstrate - through a few clear decisions - that they had understood the real meaning of the vote on November 16. That is: to revoke the amnesty law, which would have granted pardon to criminals charged with corruption, remove legislative immunity and allow the justice system to take legal action against members of parliament. This has already happened in only two days, which means it is possible. The president can be the one to generate consensus in what concerns major topics.

In the context of the Ukraine crisis, Romania holds an important geopolitical position. Among EU member states, it shares the longest border with Ukraine. What are your foreign policy priorities?

As president I will follow and consolidate our current main foreign policy trend: the strategic partnership with the United States, Romania's role and position in NATO and Romania's role and position in the European Union. As for the difficult geopolitical context we're facing, Romania must act like a serious partner, a trustworthy one, whom its allies can count on.

You have received significant support from German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. German President Joachim Gauck sent his congratulations as well, and has offered assistance with Romania's future reforms. Does this mean that Romanian-German relations are about to enter a completely new era?

Yes, I believe that in particular Romania's relations with Germany will take on a new shape. But not only relations with Germany. Generally speaking, Romania should step up to a new level in the European Union. Romania can and must increase its profile within the structures it belongs to, and it must make the most of its opportunities.