As Romania prepares to take over the helm of the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency in January – for the first time during its EU membership, the country is struggling to put its house in order.

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis called for a renewed fight against corruption. “Corruption is a disease that eats away at democracy and traps millions of people in poverty,” Iohannis said on December 9. “Corruption means a lack of motorways, insanitary hospitals, underfunded schools, blocked administration … Honesty and integrity must be reinstated at all levels of our society.”

Another issue is Iohannis rocky relationship with the country’s populist government.

As reported by The Irish Times, Iohannis and many compatriots oppose the government’s overhaul of Romania’s criminal justice system, its decriminalisation of certain graft offences and its successful campaign to remove the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor.

Critics say reforms tabled by the government favour powerful members and backers of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD). Mass rallies – the biggest street protests seen in Romania since its 1989 anti-communist revolution – have been organised.

According to The Irish Times, the reforms will favour PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who cannot serve as premier after being convicted of vote rigging and abuse of office, and so instead guides prime minister Viorica Dancila’s government from behind the scenes.

Iohannis said last week that “de facto Romania does not have a prime minister” because the government was “run by the criminal Dragnea through intermediaries” and that the PSD sought to rule through decree rather than negotiation.