An affront to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, placed on a couch on Tuesday by the protocol during the meeting of the presidents of the EU institutions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, provoked a controversy and a lot of resentment in Brussels. “President von der Leyen was surprised. She decided to go ahead and prioritize the substance. But that does not imply that she does not attach importance to the incident,” said Wednesday. his spokesperson Eric Mamer.
The scene was filmed and widely shared on social media. Under the hashtag #Sofagate, she sparked many comments on the unequal treatment between the two heads of the European institutions, and its sexist character.
“Ehm”, murmurs the former German Minister of Defense, apparently distraught: standing, she seems not to know where to settle while the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the Turkish President are wedged in the two armchairs prepared for the meeting.
Ursula von der Leyen then takes place on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“Mrs 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 does not repeat itself in the future”, announced her spokesperson.
“The presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank,” he said.
Conversely, the European Council, the body representing the member states, has however indicated that its president has precedence over the Commission for the international protocol.
“No arrangements have been made other than those requested by an EU delegation which prepared for the visit,” a Turkish official told AFP at the end of the day. The visit was prepared by the EU Ambassador in Ankara.
“A sorry situation”
Charles Michel confirmed this version of the incident: “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 said. explained in a post 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.
In his response to “reactions and sometimes harsh interpretations”, the former Belgian Prime Minister said in the end “saddened for two reasons”: “First by the impression given that I would have been indifferent to the protocol awkwardness vis-à-vis Ursula. All the more so since I am honored to participate in this European project, two of the four major institutions of which are headed by women, Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde. also proud that a woman, the first in history, has succeeded me as Prime Minister of Belgium. Finally, I am saddened, because this situation has overshadowed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we have carried out together in Ankara, and which I hope Europe will reap the fruits of “.
The rebuff comes at a delicate diplomatic moment, as the EU and Turkey seek to renew relations after a year of tensions.
Europeans do not hide their concerns about fundamental rights violations in Turkey and President Erdogan’s decision to leave the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women and children.
At the end of the meeting, Mrs 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.
“This is clearly the wrong signal right now,” she added.
“The issue of human rights is a high priority in the relationship between the EU and Turkey. It will be taken into account in the general analysis which will be submitted to European leaders at their summit in June,” warned on Wednesday. his spokesperson.
“In terms of images, the result is abominable for Charles Michel”
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.
“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 group. socialist in the European Parliament, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, in a message on her Twitter account.
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.
Charles Michel defended himself to have been “insensitive” to this situation: “Nothing is further neither from reality, nor from my deep feelings”, he assured.
But the damage is done. “In terms of images, the result is abominable for Charles Michel”, admitted a European official.
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