EU-Turkey in blame game over ‘sofagate’ after von der Leyen left standing

Turkey and Europe are buying and selling blame over who left the European Fee chief on her ft, in a spat over protocol that has prompted expenses of sexism and overshadowed a essential assembly.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Fee president, was caught off guard when European Council president Charles Michel and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat in armchairs subsequent to one another — leaving her to take a seat alone on a settee reverse Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish overseas minister.

The awkward second, caught on video at Turkey’s presidential palace in Ankara, got here forward of talks between the EU officers and Erdogan that each side needed to depict as a “new momentum” in an typically acrimonious relationship.

The EU’s Michel, who within the video glances at von der Leyen however stays in his armchair, blamed Turkey for the diplomatic mishap. “The strict interpretation of the protocol guidelines by the Turkish authorities gave rise to a distressing scenario: the differentiated — even inferior — remedy of the president of the European Fee,” he stated in a Fb publish late on Wednesday.

However in televised feedback on Thursday, Cavusoglu railed towards “unjust imputations towards Turkey from the very best ranges”. He stated: “The EU’s requests had been granted within the protocol utilized throughout this assembly. This association was made in keeping with the European Union’s ideas. Full cease.”

Because the obvious snub of von der Leyen attracted consideration on-line, Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP, posted a photograph on Twitter of Jean-Claude Juncker, former fee president, and Donald Tusk, his European Council counterpart, flanking Erdogan in chairs set at equal distance.

However Cavusoglu rejected hypothesis that the slight towards von der Leyen mirrored a adverse view of girls. Turkey is particularly weak to accusations of sexism after Erdogan final month pulled his nation out of a landmark Council of Europe treaty to forestall violence towards ladies.

The forwards and backwards over seating preparations additionally reveals inter-institutional jostling in Brussels that may baffle outsiders and obscure the larger image. The European Council president chairs conferences of EU nationwide leaders, whereas the European Fee chief heads the bloc’s Brussels-based government. Some contend the previous ranks increased in conferences with non-EU heads of state and authorities, comparable to Erdogan.

However “in protocol phrases, the president of the fee is handled in the identical manner because the president of the council”, Eric Mamer, a fee spokesperson, advised reporters on Thursday. He added that von der Leyen had requested her crew to make preparations to make sure comparable conditions “don’t come up sooner or later”.

In his publish, Michel rued that the dispute — dubbed #chairgate or #sofagate on Twitter — had “overshadowed the substantial and helpful geopolitical work” he stated he and von der Leyen had carried out in Turkey.

Von der Leyen stated she and Michel had travelled to Turkey to “give our relationship new momentum” however supplied few particulars past pledges to enhance commerce hyperlinks, monetary help to curb irregular migration and to attract consideration to human rights violations.

Turkey is formally a candidate for EU membership however negotiations have been on ice for greater than a decade over its chequered human rights document and strained relations with neighbours Cyprus and Greece.

Financial Times