Another major international blunder by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The European commission’s first female president Ursula von der Leyen was left standing during a meeting of the EU’s two presidents and Turkey’s leader. Von der Leyen was unpleasantly “surprised” after being left without a chair. She has demanded such a snub is never repeated.
By Arthur Blok
The German head of the commission was left visibly irritated at the start of the talks in Ankara with her two male counterparts, Erdoğan and Charles Michel, the former Belgian prime minister who is president of the European council.
“Ehm,” she muttered, with a small gesticulation directed at the occupied seats, as Michel and Erdoğan settled themselves at the head of the gilded room in the presidential complex at the start of the talks.
The awkward scene played out before a three-hour meeting with Erdoğan on Tuesday where one of the issues raised by the EU leaders was women’s rights in light of Turkey’s withdrawal from a convention on gender-based violence.
Michel, who appeared to make a beeline for the top spot next to Erdoğan as the party entered, offered little evidence of regret. Von der Leyen had to make do with a second-rank seat on a sofa opposite Turkey’s foreign minister.
On Wednesday, Von der Leyen’s spokesperson made clear the commission president’s feelings over the issue, noting that the incident had “sharpened her focus” on the issue of equal rights during the discussions that followed.
He said: “The president of the commission was clearly surprised and that is something you can see from the video … The protocol level of our president is exactly the same as that of the president of the European council.
“Our president is a member of the European council in her own right and normally when she goes to foreign countries she was treated in exactly the same way as the president of the European council.
“The president expects that the institution that she represents to be treated with the required protocol and she has therefore asked her team to take all appropriate contacts in order to ensure that such an incident does not occur in the future”.
The spokesperson suggested that the commission president took a calculated decision to carry on the meeting despite the affront. “The president’s assertiveness was clearly on display in that she did not walk away from the meeting, she took part in the meeting, and played her full role,” the spokesperson added.
Questions about Michel’s conduct were directed to his spokesperson, who did not respond to requests for comment. Erdogan’s blunder was condemned by various European leaders and member of the European Parliament and stamped ‘another diplomatic fiasco’.
Neither Von der Leyen nor Michel made any mention of the diplomatic gaffe in a post-meeting press conference.