To his great surprise, the President of the European Commission discovered that there was no chair for her during the summit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU colleague Charles Michel.
On Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel were in Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The meeting, which was supposed to focus on the relationship between the EU and Turkey, has ended up creating reactions.
The TV pictures show the three entering a large room where the meeting was to be held, but only two chairs have been set up in front of Turkey and the EU flag. These chairs were taken by Michel and Erdogan, while a surprised von der Leyen looks at the other two and expresses an “ehm”.
The situation ends with the President of the European Commission sitting on a sofa. Now the “sofa street” has become a talking point.
“The president of the commission was clearly surprised,” EU spokesman Eric Mamer told Reuters.
Von der Leyen sat several meters away from Erdogan and Michel, and above Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, who according to the usual protocol has a lower rank than her, writes Washington Post. Van der Leyen is the first female president of the European Commission.
“She should be sitting in exactly the same way as the president of the European Council and the president of Turkey,” Mamer told the Associated Press.
He further says that von der Leyen decided to stick to the agenda for the meeting, but emphasizes that she expects something similar not to happen again.
– She has therefore asked her team to take all precautions so that a similar incident does not happen in the future, Mamer says.
– Being a woman or a man does not change the fact that she should sit according to the same protocol arrangements as the other two. She took the opportunity to talk about the Istanbul Convention and women’s rights. I think it sent a clear message, he adds.
When the EU leaders arrived at the meeting, Erdogan is said to have shaken hands with Michel, but gently bent his hand to his chest when he greeted von der Leyen.
Several have reacted to Charles Michel not reacting to the situation. On Wednesday, he explained himself in a post on Facebook.
– Our visit marked an important moment in the complex process of improving the EU’s relations with Turkey. It was the result of careful preparation and diplomatic work, he writes.
He further explains that the Turkish authorities’ “strict interpretation” of protocol rules led to the situation.
– When we perceived the unfortunate situation, we chose not to aggravate it by creating a “public event”. I am sorry that this incident overshadows the important work that we have done in Ankara.
Turkish authorities have not commented on the incident.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, who represents the Netherlands in the European Parliament, believes the incident was not accidental. Along with photos from previous meetings between Erdogan, Michel and von der Leyen’s predecessors – with three chairs – she writes:
– And no, this was not accidental, it was deliberate. Why was the President of the European Council silent?
German politician Sergey Lagodinsky writes Twitter that “ehm” has become the new expression for “this is not how relations between the EU and Turkey should be”, and uses, among other things, the subject tag GiHenneEnStol.
– There is a reason why there are protocol schemes. Such things should not happen, says Ian Lesser, director of the German Mashall Fund in Brussels, according to New York Times.
The Spanish representative in the European Parliament Iratxe García Pérez also responds to the incident:
– First they withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and now they leave the President of the European Commission without a chair on an official visit. Shameful.
On March 20, it was announced that Turkey is withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention of 2011, a convention that seeks to combat violence against women, including violence in close relationships, marital rape and female genital mutilation.
– It makes me very worried. This is about protecting women and children, and this is a completely wrong signal to send, von der Leyen said after the meeting according to NTB.
– Human rights issues are not open to negotiation. We were very clear about that. We urge Turkey to reverse its decision, she added.