The scene was filmed and widely shared on social media. “Ehm”, murmurs the former German Minister of Defense, apparently distraught. She does not seem to know where to settle, as the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the Turkish President sit in the two armchairs prepared for the meeting. Ursula von der Leyen then takes place on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose function is inferior to her in the protocol hierarchy.
“Ms. von der Leyen is waiting to be treated according to the rules of protocol and she asked her services to ensure that this type of incident does not repeat itself in the future”, announced Éric Mamer, her spokesperson. . “The presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank”, he maintained. The European Council, however, made it known that its President took precedence over the Commission for International Protocol. “It is up to the Turkish authorities, in charge of the meeting, to explain why this type of seat was offered to Mrs von der Leyen”, underlined Eric Mamer, specifying that an EU delegation in Ankara had participated in the preparations. Charles Michel was not spared by critics either. Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in’t Veld wondered why the President of the Council had remained “silent” while his colleague found himself without a seat. Despite the incident, “the discussions were very extensive with the Turkish president and Ms. von der Leyen was able to exercise her role,” he said.
A delicate moment
The rebuff comes at a delicate diplomatic time, as the EU and Turkey seek to renew relations after a year of tension. At the end of the meeting, during the press conference, Mrs von der Leyen did not mince words. “I am deeply concerned that Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention,” she said. “It’s about protecting women, and protecting children from violence, and that’s clearly the wrong signal right now,” she added. “Human rights issues are not negotiable”. This “priority” question will be “taken into account in the general analysis which will be submitted to European leaders at their summit in June,” his spokesman warned on Wednesday.
In this tense context, the affront to the first woman to occupy one of the two highest posts in the EU has aroused the anger of several European elected officials in Brussels. “First they are withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and now they are leaving the President of the European Commission without a seat on an official visit. It is shameful. », Rebelled on Twitter the president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez.
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