Romanian President, Premier Clash Over Changes to Forest Law

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Victor Ponta clashed over planned changes to a forestry law that have triggered country-wide protests against the possibility of increased deforestation.

Iohannis asked the Romania’s intelligence service to investigate an accusation by Ponta in an interview for B1 private TV station late on Wednesday that the president’s rejection of changes to the forest law was based on information from people “who protect the interests of Holzindustrie Schweighofer,” an Austrian wood-processing company.

“Ponta’s statement is surprising and false,” Iohannis told reporters in Bucharest on Thursday. “I asked the authorities to verify what kind of information the premier received to make such statements and if they are confirmed or not. If yes, then we’ll take all the urgent measures needed, but if not he should respond for making these accusations.”

The public spat is the first between Ponta and Iohannis after three years of bickering between the prime minister and former President Traian Basescu. That dispute culminated in a surprise victory for Iohannis, the former head of the opposition Liberal Party, in a November election. Ponta, who lost the presidential battle after his first-round lead collapsed, has pledged to cooperate with Iohannis.

Iohannis sent the government-sponsored law back to parliament, saying it could affect competition by limiting the activity of some companies while favoring others, which may prompt penalties from the European Union. The government said it stands by the law. The cabinet is also planning to approve an emergency decree to temporarily halt log exports, Ponta said on Wednesday.

Thousand of people took to the streets on May 9 in Bucharest and five other cities asking lawmakers to introduce tougher sanctions for those who illegally cut wood.

Holzindustrie Schweighofer supports measures that prevent illegal logging, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. The government’s draft forest law, which was approved by parliament, was “in clear violation of international laws,” it said.

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