European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen experienced an awkward moment in her visit to Turkey when the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, left her hanging, with no place to sit, at a public ceremony.
On the important visit to Ankara, in order to restore relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey back on track, Ursula von der Leyen was eventually relegated to a secondary location by not having a place to sit on the main stage, where Erdogan and Michel stayed.
During a ceremony for the television cameras, no armchair was placed in the room for the president of the European Commission next to Erdogan.
Von der Leyen foi forced to stand while the Turkish President and the President of the European Council sat comfortably in their seats, exchanging smiles and adjusting their coats.
Von der Leyen ainda let out a “humm” of astonishment and Charles Michel still seemed to look at her, somewhat hesitantly, but he kept his position intact in the chair.
The President of the Commission ended up sitting on a sofa, located beside the armchairs of Erdogan and Michel, in a secondary position, without having space in the circle defined for Michel and Erdogan.
Von der Leyen “was surprised”
“A presidente Von der Leyen was surprised“, But“ decided to go ahead and prioritize the substance above the protocol ”, said its spokesman, Eric Mamer, to the media.
“But that does not mean that it does not give importance to the incident,” he added.
Von der Leyen did not comment directly on the episode, but after the meeting, at the press conference that followed, he took a hard line on women’s rights in Turkey.
This country came out of the Istanbul Convention that aims to prevent violence against women on the 20th of March.
However, a source in Charles Michel’s office said that “the Treaty of Lisbon provides that, abroad, the President of the Council takes precedence over the President of the Commission ”.
But Von der Leyen’s spokesman understands that “the presidents of the Commission and the Council have the same protocol classification”And that, therefore,“ they should sit at the same level ”.
On the Turkish side, one official underlines to AFP that “no provision was made other than those requested by an EU delegation that prepared the visit”.
Michel recognizes “differentiated treatment”
For his part, Charles Michel threw blame for Turkish officials.
“Despite a clear desire to do well, the Turkish services’ strict interpretation of the protocol rules produced a pitiful situation: the differentiated, or even diminished, treatment of the President of the European Commission ”, wrote the President of the European Council on his Facebook profile.
As for the fact that he had no reaction, Michel notes that he chose, together with Von der Leyen, “Do not aggravate” further the case with “a public incident”.
Now, in the images, it is visible that Michel does not make any gesture and that it is the President of the Commission who resigns himself to the situation, assuming a secondary place in the meeting.
Michel also regretted the sadness because “this situation hid the great and beneficial geopolitical work” carried out in Ankara.
The President of the European Council stresses that the “visit was an important moment in the complex process of improving EU relations with Turkey”In order to convince Erdogan to take“ a more constructive approach ”in his relationship with European peers.
Relations between Michel and Von der Leyen will not be perfect behind the scenes in the EU. The French newspaper Le Monde points out that they are really “very difficult” due to differences in EU foreign policy.
Le Figaro, on the other hand, shows that the two European leaders maintain relations “much more strained than the good understanding they show” publicly.
#SofaGate “orchestrated by Erdogan”
The unusual episode has not escaped the clinical eye of social networks, where criticism of Michel and Erdogan rains. The subject has also been commented in a humorous tone with the use of the hashtags #GiveHerASeat [Dêem-lhe um assento] e #SofaGate.
Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld used Twitter to post photos from November 2015 showing Erdogan sitting next to Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, respectively chairmen of the European Commission and Council at the time.
“It was not a coincidence, it was deliberate”, wrote the MEP, also asking “why did the President of the Council remain silent?”
Former EU ambassador to Turkey, Marc Pierini, also has no doubt that the incident was “orchestrated by Erdogan”, as he pointed out to Le Figaro. “It is another promise given to conservative Turkish clerics,” he stressed.
And the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, referred to a French television that appears to have been “something organized”.
“I don’t want a naive and fragile Europe”, Beaune added, stressing that Erdogan “knows the strength of images, the value of symbols”.
“It is an affront that we will correct, but we can’t let that kind of thing happen, ”he added.
Susana Valente, ZAP //