The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen was placed on a couch on Tuesday by the protocol during a meeting of the presidents of the EU institutions with the Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has caused a lot of resentment but also friction in Brussels.
“The requests of the EU were respected. This means that the seating arrangements were made at their request. Our protocol services met before the meeting and their requests (from the EU) were respected,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a press conference in Ankara.
“The accusations against Turkey are unfair. Turkey is a deeply rooted state and this is not the first time that foreign dignitaries have been welcomed,” he added.
The scene was filmed and widely broadcast 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 sits on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Foreign Minister.
On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen made known her displeasure at being placed on the back seat and demanded to be treated as the equal of the President of the Council.
Its spokesperson said that “the presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank” but the European Council, the body representing the member states, nevertheless indicated that its president took precedence over the Commission for international protocol.
– ‘Symbol of disunity’ –
The major political groups of the European Parliament deplored Thursday the image of disunity given by the presidents of the institutions during their meeting with the Turkish president and asked them to come and explain themselves in plenary.
“The meeting in Ankara of Presidents von der Leyen and Michel should have sent a message of firmness and unity of the European approach towards Turkey. Unfortunately, it was translated into a symbol of disunity, the presidents having failed to form a united front when necessary. We expect more from Europe’s foreign policy “, lamented the German Manfred Weber, president of the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) (pro-European right) .
The president of the Socialists and Democrats group, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, also asked for the hearing of the presidents of the two institutions “to clarify what happened” and to see “how to ensure respect for the European institutions”.
In a comment on Facebook, Charles Michel estimated that “the strict interpretation by the Turkish services of the rules of protocol has produced a distressing situation: the differential treatment, even reduced, of the President of the European Commission”.
“At the time, while perceiving the regrettable nature of the situation, we chose not to aggravate it by a public incident (…)” and to “privilege” “the substance of the political discussion” with the president Turkish, he added, while saying he was “saddened” by this incident.
The case has sparked indignant reactions in Europe, especially since it occurred a few weeks after Ankara’s withdrawal from a European convention on the prevention of violence against women.
The most virulent comments were made by the French political class, at a time when relations between Paris and Ankara were marked by strong tensions.
“These are images that hurt! I do not want a naive, fragile Europe,” lamented the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “It is an affront that will be corrected, but we must not let this kind of thing happen,” he added on BFM Business on Wednesday evening.
“There is a kind of humiliation and then we also see something very related to the release of the women’s rights convention from Turkey recently,” reacted the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Thursday on RTL.
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