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Three Presidents, two chairs: Diplomatic SofaGate in Turkey

A diplomatic faux pas that left EU chief Ursula von der Leyen without a chair as male counterparts took their seats at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stirred controversy in Brussels. On media and social media the unprecedented incident has been named SofaGate.

Video from Tuesday’s encounter in Ankara showed European Commission president von der Leyen flummoxed as the Turkish leader and European Council president Charles Michel took their seats in front of their flags. “Ehm,” muttered the former German defence minister, appearing unsure where to go. Eventually she was seated on a sofa a little further away from her counterparts, opposite Turkey’s foreign minister — someone below her in the protocol pecking order.

The apparent snub came at a delicate moment as the EU and Turkey look to rebuild ties despite concerns over Ankara’s record on rights, including the protection of women. Erdogan angered Brussels ahead of the visit by the bloc’s chiefs by announcing he was withdrawing Turkey from the global Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and children.

Speaking after the meeting with the Turkish leader, von der Leyen stressed that “human rights issues are non-negotiable”. “I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention” von der Leyen said. “This is about protecting women, and protecting children against violence, and this is clearly the wrong signal right now.”

The perceived slight to the first woman ever to occupy one of the EU’s top two roles stirred anger among some in Brussels. “First they withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and now they leave the President of European Commission without a seat in an official visit. Shameful. #WomensRights,” wrote Spanish European Parliament member Iratxe Garcia Perez.

German MEP Sergey Lagodinsky wrote of von der Leyen’s utterance that “‘Ehm’ is the new term for ‘that’s not how EU-Turkey relationship should be’. But not all the ire was directed at the Turkish side. Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld was left questioning why Michel was “silent” as his female colleague was left without a seat. [AFP]

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  1. Just proves the point that Erdogen is as ignorant as he is impolite no manners at all, a poor leader to a soon to be poor country of budding trouble makers and proves that Muslims want to keep women downtrodden and in their places, oh so historic and old they are in their beliefs and minds, Ancient and old fashioned, behind the times!!!

    • arthur c clarke

      Maybe Erdogan is ignorant, but so is Charles Michel. And Michel is supposed to be on the same side as Der Leyen, but chose to engage in a piece of opportunistic one-upmanship. This shows us how disgusting our own European politicians are; never mind about Erdogan.

    • Unfortunately Spanish, French, English and even Italian banks have a combined 120 billion EUR invested in Turkey. This is why the EU never really hits them with sanctions, no matter how much Greece or Cyprus lobby.

  2. Perfect place for von Leyden delegated to sofa