Von der Leyen left ‘surprised’ by chair snub at EU talks with Erdoğan
Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission’s first female president, was “surprised” after being left without a chair during a meeting of the EU’s two presidents and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and has demanded such a snub is never repeated.
The German head of the commission was 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, 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.
Yesterday, 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.”
Last night Michel said he was “sorry” he had appeared indifferent to Von der Leyen’s “distressing situation”. He said: “I am saddened, because this situation has overshadowed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we carried out together in Ankara.”