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An affront inflicted on Turkey Ursula von der Leyen angering Brussels

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At a meeting on Tuesday in Ankara, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had to sit back on a divant while the President of the Council, Charles Michel, was able to sit alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan . A protocol misstep deemed “sexist” in Brussels, provoking the anger of several European readers.

Brussels has already nicknamed this episode “the sofagate”. On Tuesday April 6, an affront was inflicted on the President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, during a meeting between the presidents of the institutions of the European Union and the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan organized in Ankara. She had to sit back on a couch, while the two men sat down on two armchairs side by side.

The scene, which was filmed, sparked controversy in Brussels. “Ehm”, murmurs the former Minister of Defense of Angela Merkel, apparently distraught, at the beginning of a video widely broadcast on social networks. She does not seem to know where to settle as the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the Turkish President settle in the two seats prepared for the meeting. She finally opts for a slightly recessed sofa, in front of the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose function is inferior to her in the protocol hierarchy.

“President von der Leyen was surprised. She decided to override and prioritize substance. But that does not imply that she does not attach importance to the incident,” said Wednesday April 7th. spokesperson, ric Mamer.

A protocol misstep

“The presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank”, he maintained while the European Council indicated that its president has the presence on the Commission for the international protocol.

“Ursula von der Leyen expects to be treated according to the rules of protocol and she asked her services to ensure that this kind of incident is not repeated in the future,” announced her spokesperson. “It is up to the Turkish authorities, in charge of the meeting, to explain why he was offered this type of seat Ursula von der Leyen.”

“No action has been taken apart from those requested by an EU delegation which prepared for the visit,” a Turkish official told AFP at the end of the day.

The rebuff comes at a delicate diplomatic moment, as the EU and Turkey seek to renew relations after a year of tension. Europeans do not hide their concerns about violations of fundamental rights in Turkey and in particular President Erdogan’s decision to leave the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women and children.

At the end of the meeting, Ursula von der Leyen did not mince words during the press conference. “I am deeply concerned that Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul convention,” she said. “It’s about protecting women, and protecting children from violence, and that’s is clearly the wrong signal right now, ”she added. “Human rights issues are not negotiable.”

Strong reactions Brussels

The affront to the first woman to occupy one of the two highest posts in the EU has aroused the anger of several elected Europeans in Brussels, who see in it a desire by the Turkish president to take over from Ursula von der Leyen because of her gender.

“First they are withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and now they are leaving the President of the European Commission without a seat on an official visit. It is shameful. #WomensRights”, protested the President of the European Commission. Socialist group in the European Parliament, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, in a message on her Twitter account.

“Ursula von der Leyen’s expression ‘Ehm is the new term for’ it’s not how the EU-Turkey relationship should be conducted ‘,” German eurodput environmentalist Sergey Lagodinsky said.

Charles Michel was not spared by the critics. Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld wondered why the President of the Council had remained “silent” while his colleague found himself without a seat. In France, the rebellious French MEP Manon Aubry denounced the “incomprehensible passivity of Charles Michel, who legitimizes this affront by not reacting”.


The main interested party replied Wednesday. “The strict interpretation by the Turkish services of the rules of protocol has produced a distressing situation: the differentiated, even reduced, treatment of the President of the European Commission,” he explained in a message on his Facebook account. “At the time, while perceiving the regrettable nature of the situation, we chose not to aggravate it by a public incident”, he maintained.

With AFP



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