Controversy in Brussels after an affront to Ursula von der Leyen in Ankara

Controversy in Brussels after an affront to Ursula von der Leyen in Ankara
Controversy in Brussels after an affront to Ursula von der Leyen in Ankara
An affront to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who was placed back on a couch during the meeting of the presidents of the EU institutions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, sparked a controversy on Wednesday 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, “explained her spokesperson Eric Mamer on Wednesday.

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 on the video. She does not seem to know where to sit as European Council President Charles Michel and Turkish President sit back in the two armchairs prepared for the meeting.

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Ursula von der Leyen then sits on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose function is inferior to her in the protocol hierarchy.

“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 maintained. The European Council, however, made it known that its president took precedence over the Commission for International Protocol.

Despite the incident, “discussions were very extensive with the Turkish president and Ms. von der Leyen was able to exercise her role,” he said.

“It is up to the Turkish authorities, in charge of the meeting, to explain why this type of seat was offered to Mrs von der Leyen”, underlined Eric Mamer, specifying that an EU delegation in Ankara had participated in the preparations.

“No arrangements were 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.

– A delicate moment –

The rebuff comes at a delicate diplomatic time, as the EU and Turkey seek to renew relations after a year of tensions.

Europeans do not hide their concerns about violations of fundamental rights in Turkey and in particular the decision of President Erdogan 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.

“It’s about protecting women, and protecting children from violence, and that’s clearly the wrong signal right now,” she added. “Human rights issues are not negotiable,” she insisted.

“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, ”his spokesperson warned on Wednesday.

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.

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“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 Socialist group in the European Parliament, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, in a message on her Twitter account.

Mrs von der Leyen’s expression “+ Ehm + is the new term for + this is not how the EU-Turkey relationship should be conducted +”, commented German environmental MEP Sergei Lagodinsky.

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.

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