‘Sofagate’ gives EU president sleepless nights

After three sleepless nights, European Council President Charles Michel takes ‘his share of responsibility’ for the so-called ‘sofagate’ with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It received him and President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission in Ankara on Tuesday, but had no chair ready for the latter. “Humiliating and regrettable,” said the Belgian in an interview with a number of European newspapers.

The female-unfriendly reception caused a storm of criticism in Europe. Especially because the visit of von der Leyen and Michel to the Turkish president was partly devoted to respect for human and women’s rights. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which fights violence against women, was an important item on the agenda. Turkey and the EU blame each other for the incident. The Turks claim that no chair was set up for Von der Leyen at the direction of the EU, but according to the EU they were not allowed to see the reception area in advance.

Charles Michel kept quiet until now, hoping the storm would pass, but changed his mind. “I take my share of responsibility for the incident,” he said The time from his mouth. “The images are shocking. The seating arrangement was demeaning, which is unfortunate. I haven’t been sleeping well since the sofa incident. The film is constantly running through my mind. ”

Not all arguments sound equally convincing according to the Flemish business newspaper. “Ursula von der Leyen conveyed the message about women’s and human rights to the Turks. If I had stepped in to offer a chair, it might have come across as patronizing. ”

Michel places part of the responsibility on the Turks. The European Council protocol was denied access to the room the day before the meeting, nor did it receive detailed information on the seating arrangement, a note from its protocol services states.

Pecking order

A spicy detail, according to the newspaper, is that Von der Leyen did not send its own protocol services due to the corona virus and was therefore dependent on the agreements made by Michel’s employees. This protocol service put the European Council President ‘higher in the pecking order’ than von der Leyen, while at such bilateral meetings no protocol distinction is ever made between the two top positions. For the predecessors of Michel and Von der Leyen – Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker – there were equal chairs, according to the newspaper.

It is easy to say afterwards that it was wrong not to respond Michel admits. “I was afraid of creating an incident. We have worked hard for months to get across a positive message in Turkey. If I had responded in a visible way in front of the camera, I would have negated those efforts and preparations. ”

The European Council President said he had to ‘very quickly’ determine his attitude when confronted with the situation. According to the newspaper, diplomats nevertheless believe that Erdogan would not have reacted negatively to the request to adjust the seats. “Turkey is the requesting party for a deal: the country is groaning under corona and the economy is in free fall, partly due to the absence of tourists,” it says.

Dictator

Erdogan and Michel, who did not intervene but took a seemingly unmoved place next to Erdgan, are accused of sexism among other things. Italian Prime Minister Draghi called Erdigan on Friday evening one of the ‘dictators’ to whom you should not mince words. The French Minister of European Affairs and the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs also reacted indignantly.

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