UPDATED: ‘Diplomatic fiasco’ after Ursula von der Leyen relegated to sofa by Erdogan, President Michel clarifies

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Turkey committed a major diplomatic faux pas on Tuesday when a visibly frustrated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was relegated to a socially distanced sofa, while European Council chief Charles Michel sat in an armchair next to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.

When the EU’s most senior officials arrived for talks with Turkey’s president, it quickly became apparent that only two chairs were laid out for the three leaders

As head of the EU’s executive arm, Ms von der Leyen is no less senior than Mr Michel. On the opposite sofa sat Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose role ranks lower than hers.

It led to the hashtags #SofaGate and #GiveHerASeat trending on Twitter, with Ms von der Leyen appearing exasperated by the situation in a video broadcast by the European Commission.

Observers pointed out that when Mr Erdogan met the predecessors of the two EU chiefs – who were men – all three were given seats beside each other.

Mr Michel and Ms von der Leyen were in Ankara for talks with Mr Erdogan about developing a closer relationship. Both EU officials said they hoped they could build better ties with Turkey, but also voiced their concerns about human rights violations in the country.

Meanwhile President Michel has reacted in a Facebook post to the incident and sought to clarify the situation saying the images of the meeting had given a false impression.

Michel denied that he was insecure about this situation, adding that “nothing is further away from reality or my deep feelings. Neither finally the principles of respect that seem essential to me.”

Michel added that “at the moment, while perceiving the regrettable nature of the situation, we chose not to aggravate it by a public incident, and at the beginning of meeting the substance of the political discussion that we were about to start, Ursula and I, with our guests.

The substance was, in particular, the speech we gave to President Erdogan on the Istanbul Convention, the rights of women and children, and more broadly the defence of our fundamental values of the rule of law, freedom of expression or freedom of expression.”

Main Photo: A handout photo made available by Turkish President Press Office shows, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), EU Council President Charles Michel (L) and President of EU Commission Ursula Von der Leyen (R) pose before their meeting at the Presidential Place in Ankara, Turkey, 06 April 2021. EPA-EFE/PRESIDENTAL PRESS OFFICE

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