Ursula van Leyden relegated (symbolically) to the couch during Turkish summit
Ursula von der Leyen suggests Turkey was sexist for failing to give her a seat at meeting with Erdogan
Ursula von der Leyen has suggested Turkey was guilty of sexism in failing to provide her with a seat at a meeting with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The European commission chief met Mr Erdogan on Tuesday along with European Council president Charles Michel to discuss the EU’s refugee deal and Turkey’s relationship in general with Brussels.
During the meeting of the three leaders, Mrs von der Leyen – the first female president of the Commission – was left visibly perplexed as Mr Michel and Mr Erdogan took the only two chairs available in the centre of the room.
Video footage picks up the commission president saying “ermm?” as Mr Michel without hesitation takes his place at Mr Erdogan’s side.
According to EU sources, one of the topics of the meeting was women’s rights in Turkey, in particular Mr Erdogan’s decision to nix Turkey’s involvement in the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty aimed at halting violence towards women.
Asked whether the seating snub had given von der Leyen a taste of life as a woman under Erdogan’s government, her chief spokesman replied: “Obviously, this sharpened her focus on the issue.”
Von der Leyen’s relegation has already been condemned by EU figures past and present, as well as triggering the #SofaGate trend on social media.
Christian Kern, a former chancellor of Austria, called Michel “a joke”, while Violeta Bulc, a former transport commissioner, called the meeting “a humiliating demonstration of equality” and “a diplomatic fiasco”.
Ausra Maldeikiene, a Lithuanian MEP, tweeted that “if the President of Turkey came to my house I would find him a chair, even though he is a man”. Charles Michel has also been criticised for taking his seat and not standing up for Mrs von der Leyen. He has not commented on the incident yet.
Mrs von der Leyen’s spokesman also insisted on Wednesday that “the protocol level of our president is exactly the same as that of the president of the European Council” and that she “should have been seated in exactly the same manner as the Council and Turkish presidents”.
Council diplomats insist that proper protocols were followed during the meeting. However, Dutch lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld pointed to pictures of Mr Erdogan with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the two previous EU presidents, where both are given equal billing.
The gaffe may reignite calls for the two presidential positions to be merged into one job. During his time in office, Mr Juncker said that “Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship”, although national leaders have mostly snubbed the idea.
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