Thursday, 08 April 2021 07:56

Furniture in meeting with Von der Leyen met EU demands, Turkey says

Only one of two visiting European Union chiefs were given a chair at the meeting in Ankara on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA

Turkey’s foreign minister responded on Thursday to a diplomatic mishap in which only one of two visiting European Union chiefs were given a chair at a meeting in Ankara, saying the seating was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was taken aback when Charles Michel, head of the European Council, took the only chair available next to president of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan at his presidential palace on Tuesday.

Video of the incident, which has been viewed as a deliberate snub, showed the first female head of the EU executive, and the only woman in the talks, briefly standing and gesturing in surprise at the two men before she sat on a couch adjacent to the main chairs.

One of the issues on the agenda for discussion at the meeting was Turkey’s withdrawal from a landmark treaty on violence against women.

The footage was broadly shared on social media and prompted backlash against Ankara over protocol and against Mr Michel for not defending his fellow EU executive.

‘Unjust accusations’

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs who was seated on Tuesday on another couch, said on Thursday the seating arrangement was in line with international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations”.

“Turkey is a deep-rooted state, it is not the first time it hosts a guest. The protocol followed for meetings in Turkey is within the international protocol framework. The same was done here too,” he told reporters in Ankara.

“The protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side. In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.”

In the past, three chairs were provided when Mr Erdogan visited Brussels for talks with the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, which collectively represents the EU’s 27 member states.

A European Commission spokesman said that Dr von der Leyen was “clearly surprised” not to be given a chair, and that her rank was equal to Mr Michel’s in matters of protocol.

“Our president is a member of the European Council in her own right, and normally when she goes to foreign countries she was treated in exactly the same way as the president of the European Council,” the spokesman said.

“The president expects the institution that she represents to be treated with the required protocol and she has therefore asked her team to take all appropriate contacts in order to ensure that such an incident does not occur in the future.”

Ties between Brussels and Ankara have been strained since a failed coup in 2016 prompted a crackdown in Turkey that has led to the arrests of thousands. A maritime row between Turkey and Greece stoked tensions last year and the EU threatened sanctions on Ankara, but they are now testing a cautious rapprochement. – Reuters