The attempt to mend the strained relations between the European Union and Turkey has turned into a diplomatic row dubbed “the sofa” or the sofa scandal.
When the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, found herself left standing due to a lack of chairs in Ankara, she responded with an audible grunt to attract attention.
Some criticized the behavior of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the European official, Charles Michel, a colleague of von der Leyen in the Union, during the meeting.
But Turkey is now blaming the European Union for what Ankara called “unfair accusations.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşo أوlu insisted Thursday that: “The protocol in the presidency met the demands of the European Union. In other words, the arrangement of seats came in response to his demands and proposals.”
This was not exactly the view of Michel, the former Belgian prime minister, who represents 27 member states of the European Union, as chair of his council.
In a Facebook post, Michel said: “Turkey’s strict interpretation of the protocol rules … [الذي] Led to a painful situation: when the president of the European Commission was treated badly. ”
Michel explained that the meeting at the palace of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came after months of “careful preparation and diplomatic efforts.”
But when the three leaders met in the hall, there were only two chairs, one side with a Turkish flag, and next to the European Union flag.
The two men, Erdogan and Michel, took their seats in the two Ottoman-style gilded chairs, while the Chairperson of the Commission remained standing. And her dissatisfaction was evident when she cropped loudly to attract attention.
Finally, von der Leyen sat on a sofa, far from the Turkish leader, across from the Turkish foreign minister.
There is a precedent for this. When the Turkish leader visited Brussels in 2017, the two men presiding over the European Commission and Council of Europe sat next to him in comfortable chairs similar to his.
How it turned out Command To contention?
A video clip showing the UNHCR chief’s annoyance spread widely, with criticism of both the Turkish hosts, and Michel’s decision to sit down while his colleague remained standing.
A member of the European Parliament for the Netherlands, Sophie Infield, complained that what happened was a deliberate insult on the part of the Turks, and that he “doubted” that von der Leyen received equal treatment, and that it was no coincidence that she was the only woman in the room.
It was not lost on the minds that Turkey’s recent decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women was on the agenda of Tuesday’s talks between the two sides.
Eratex Garcia Perez, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said it was “shameful” that Turkey pulled out of the Istanbul agreement and then left the chairperson of the commission standing without a seat. And condemned what happened from Erdogan and Charles Michel.
The European Commission has also expressed its feelings, but in a more diplomatic way. Von der Leyen said she expected to treat the institution she represents with appropriate protocol and asked her team to ensure that this does not happen again.
Michel said he was “sad about what was said about me and that I may have been indifferent to what happened in the protocol error regarding Ursula.”
He said that photos of the meeting gave the impression that he was “indifferent” to the situation, but that was far from the truth.
The council president also expressed regret that the issue overshadowed the meeting itself.
For years, relations between Turkey and the European Union have been tense, due to the influx of immigrants and recent Turkish gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
After the meeting, von der Leyen hoped to review the 2016 agreement under which the European Union pays Turkey aid to prevent large numbers of arrivals from arriving in Greece.