BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's president on Tuesday blasted the ruling party's leader as a "criminal at the top of the state apparatus," saying politicians with criminal convictions are trying to take over the country's justice system and undermine efforts to fight corruption.

President Klaus Iohannis was hitting back at Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, who earlier accused him of not declaring a rent contract and other misdemeanors. Iohannis called the allegations "fake news... something we'd have called plain lies in the past."

Asked whether Romania was ready to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Jan. 1, Iohannis said: "We'd be much better prepared without (these) criminals."

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova last month said Romania would struggle to manage the EU's presidency while it was weighed down by domestic concerns, notably corruption.

Since they won elections in 2016, the Social Democrats have embarked on a contentious judicial overhaul that sparked regular anti-corruption protests and criticism from the EU and the U.S.

Iohannis, a centrist who supports the anti-corruption fight, said Romania was "facing threats that put even democracy and the rule of law in jeopardy." Several members of the ruling coalition have criticized the EU, which Iohannis said was "the way some politicians hide their own failures."

Dragnea can't be premier due to a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging. In June, he received a 3½-year prison sentence for abuse of power in office. He appealed the decision.

Romania's justice system remains under special EU monitoring due to endemic corruption.