Turkey blames EU for Ursula von der Leyen ‘sofagate’ scandal

Sam Morgan
·2 min read
Ursula von der Leyen looks on as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and EU Council President Charles Michel take the only chairs in the room - AFP
Ursula von der Leyen looks on as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and EU Council President Charles Michel take the only chairs in the room - AFP

The Turkish government insists that the EU was to blame for seating arrangements that left European commission chief Ursula von der Leyen without a chair during a high-profile meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey was accused of sexist behaviour towards the first female head of the commission yesterday, when her EU council counterpart Charles Michel was granted a seat next to Erdogan, while she was relegated to a nearby sofa.

Ms Von der Leyen should have been treated the same as Mr Michel, according to her spokesperson, who said the incident had “sharpened her focus” when it comes to championing women’s rights.

Ursula von der Leyen was relegated to the sofa during a high-profile meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Ursula von der Leyen was relegated to the sofa during a high-profile meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hit back at claims that ‘sofagate’ was a result of misogynist behaviour on the Turkish side, claiming that “the seating arrangements were made in line with the EU suggestion. Period.”

“We would not be revealing this fact had accusations not been made against Turkey,” Mr Cavusoglu added, referring to a late-night statement made by Mr Michel on his Facebook page.

That post put the blame squarely on Ankara’s shoulders.

“Despite a clear desire to do the right thing, the strict interpretation of the protocol rules by the Turkish authorities gave rise to a distressing situation: the differentiated - even inferior - treatment accorded to the president of the European Commission,” Mr Michel posted in French.

The former Belgian prime minister added that he was “saddened” by suggestions that he was indifferent to the “protocol misstep”, despite photographs and video footage clearly showing him taking his place next to Erdogan without a beat of hesitation.

Mr Michel adds that he only proceeded with the meeting as planned because “we decided not to make matters worse by creating a scene”, contradicting footage that shows the commission president visibly perplexed by the unfolding scenes.

Ms Von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, also waded into the scandal, telling Politico Europe that during his time in the job “from a protocol point of view, the president of the council is No. 1, and the president of the commission is No. 2", when overseas.

“Normally I had a chair next to the chair of the president of the council, but sometimes it happened that I was sitting on a sofa,” Mr Juncker said, insisting that “there are more important controversies” than ‘sofagate’.