A meeting in Turkey between President Erdogan and EU President Charles Michel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen led to outrage in Brussels. The Turkish President did not offer Von der Leyen a seat in the conference room in capital Ankara. She was therefore uncomfortable for some time.
Michel could sit in a chair next to the president. He made no effort to give his place to Von der Leyen. She tried to attract attention by explicitly saying “ehm”. Eventually she sat down on a bench that was a little further away from the two men. She sat in front of the Turkish Foreign Minister and then watched the press take pictures of Michel and Erdogan.
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Michel is accused of not intervening and giving up his own place to Von der Leyen. Indeed, the President of the EU and the President of the Commission have an equal role.
By remaining sitting next to the Turkish President, Michel gave the impression that Von der Leyen was at the same level as the Turkish minister.
Michel‘s team says that everyone has adhered to the protocols, writes news site Politico. It was Michel who received an invitation, Von der Leyen was allowed to attend, says the team. The Turks also see no harm in the incident, which is discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #sofagate. According to them, the EU agreed in advance to this way of distributing seats.
The European Commission believes that Erdogan has not received the chairman of the committee as it should. He should have given Von der Leyen an “exactly equally prominent” seat, says a spokesman.
According to the spokesperson, the chairman of the committee was “clearly surprised”, but decided to continue the conversation she wanted to have with the Turkish President. Among other things, she cut women’s rights.
On the spot, Von der Leyen chose not to make a point of the uncomfortable situation. “She didn‘t want to overshadow the substantive side of the journey,” says the spokesman. However, the committee is looking at how a situation such as this can be avoided in the future.
Recently Turkey also appeared in the news about women’s rights. Erdogan withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Treaty last month, which deals with combating violence against women and domestic violence.