The Guardian

Von der Leyen left ‘surprised’ by chair snub at EU talks with Erdoğan

- Daniel Boffey Brussels

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.”

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