An explicit snub to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during an official meeting with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, caused an avalanche of protests this Wednesday (7) in the European Union.
Von der Leyen, the only woman among the leaders present at the Ankara meeting, stood in the middle of the room when she discovered that there were only two armchairs – in which Erdogan, next to the Turkish flag , and Michel, next to the EU Flag.
After opening her hands and emitting an interrogative “ãhm”, she found herself sitting on a couch, in an unobstructed cornering position from the two presidents.
The scene angered politicians, diplomats and journalists, and the target was not only the Turkish president – whose sexist positions are known – but also the Belgian politician, who did not hesitate to let Von der Leyen had no prominent position at the meeting and has failed to mention the fact since then.
In a social network, the attitude was described as “shameful” by the MEP Iratxe García Pérez, leader of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament, an “obscene scene” by an Italian journalist and a “diplomatic fiasco” by the locals, who said they have never seen such unequal treatment from equivalent leaders.
Several subjects discussed during the meeting – such as immigration policies, the only one which had a concrete result – fall under the responsibility of the Commission, and not of the European Council, which would justify that in the absence of seats, Von der Leyen would benefit from it.
The tight skirt came after a two-hour meeting between the three leaders, in which one of the issues was Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Women’s Rights.
In an interview this Wednesday (7) on the scene, the main spokesperson for the Commission, Eric Mamer, oscillated between saying that “he would not make the case an incident” and declaring that “the president should have to be seated exactly like Michel and Erdogan, and expects the institution she represents to be treated with the right protocol ”.
According to him, the Commission “will take measures to prevent a similar failure from happening again”. Mamer did not specify, however, whether the European institutions had not been informed in advance of the protocol.
He also refused to respond to the hypothesis he considered the most likely: a “trap” planned by Erdogan to upset Von der Leyen, a direct misogynist insult or a political message were the alternatives presented by the journalist.
“I don’t know what message Turkey might want to send, but what matters is that we have clearly gone beyond our own,” the spokesperson said, saying Von der Leyen “preferred substance over form. “and continue the meeting.
“The president reacted confidently. He did not leave the meeting, he participated actively and took all necessary measures, ”said Mamer.
The main practical result has been the extension of the five-year agreement by which the European Union gives the Turkish government 6 billion euros (almost 40 billion reais) so that the country avoids the passage of immigrants to Europe. , on the other side of the border with Greece.
The program was implemented after the 2015 immigration crisis, when more than a million people fleeing conflicts in their countries entered the European Union. It is estimated that around 4 million immigrants are currently detained in Turkey, mostly Syrians and Afghans.
In the interview after the meeting, the President of the European Commission made no mention of the cancellation. He said the trip was aimed at “giving new impetus” to relations with Turkey and called the meeting with Erdogan “interesting”.
She also said she was “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention, a measure which von der Leyen said “sends the wrong signal”.
Mamer, however, did not answer the question whether the Commission also considered “a bad signal” that Charles Michel had taken the only available seat, instead of waiting for a third to be brought in or giving up his seat.
“This is a question that must be put to the European Council. What I can say is that President Von der Leyen asked for an explanation from everyone involved.
Wanted since Tuesday evening, the Council spokesperson did not raise the issue until 2:30 p.m. (local time, 9:30 a.m. in Brazil) on Wednesday. On the sofa, Von der Leyen occupied a position equivalent to that of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu, who occupied similar furniture in front of him.
The Turkish Chancellery said that “there was no intention of causing harm” to the President of the European Commission and that “the advanced EU delegation agreed with the protocol in general”, although it is not clear if this included the seating arrangement.