Turkey is overwhelmed by criticism after the protocol affront felt by the President of the European Commission in Ankara. The head of Turkish diplomacy, Mevlut Cavusoglu, castigated, Thursday, April 8, “Unfair accusations”.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was placed on a couch on Tuesday by the protocol during a meeting of the presidents of the institutions of the European Union (EU) with Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the President of the European Council Charles Michel, which caused a lot of resentment but also friction in Brussels.
On Thursday evening, Italian head of government Mario Draghi even called Mr. Erdogan “Dictator” and declared “Very saddened by the humiliation that the President of the Commission had to undergo”. These comments were qualified as “Populist, offensive and unreasonable” by Mevlut Cavusoglu, who summoned the Italian Ambassador to Ankara.
Earlier, at a press conference, he felt that “The accusations against Turkey are unfair. Turkey is a deeply rooted state and this is not the first time that we have welcomed foreign dignitaries ”.
“The EU’s demands have been respected. This means that the seating arrangement was made at their request. Our protocol services met before the meeting and their requests [de l’UE] have been respected ”, he added.
Ursula von der Leyen’s displeasure
But the protocol service of the European Council, an institution chaired by Charles Michel, argued Thursday that he had not had prior access to the room where the meeting was to take place. “If the room had been visited, we would have suggested to our hosts that, as a courtesy, the sofa be replaced by two armchairs for the President of the Commission”, specified this service in a letter.
The scene was filmed and widely broadcast on social media. Under the hashtag #Sofagate, she sparked many comments on the unequal treatment between the two heads of the European institutions, and its sexist character.
On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen made known her displeasure at having been placed on the retreat and demanded to be treated as the equal of the President of the Council. His spokesperson claimed that “The presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank” but the European Council, the body representing member states, has nevertheless made it known that its president takes precedence over the Commission for International Protocol.
Indignant reactions in Europe
The major political groups in the European Parliament deplored, on Thursday, the image of disunity given by the presidents of the institutions during their meeting with the Turkish president and asked them to come and explain themselves in plenary. All the more so as it comes a few weeks after Ankara’s withdrawal from a European convention on the prevention of violence against women.
“The meeting in Ankara of Presidents von der Leyen and Michel should have sent a message of firmness and unity of the European approach towards Turkey. Unfortunately, it resulted in a symbol of disunity, the presidents not having known how to unite when necessary ”, deplored the German Manfred Weber, president of the Group of the European People’s Party EPP (pro-European right).
The president of the Socialists and Democrats group, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, also requested the hearing of the presidents of the two institutions “To clarify what happened” and see “How to ensure respect for the European institutions”.
Charles Michel assured Thursday “Deeply regret” what happened in Ankara during a televised intervention in Belgium. He explained that he did not react “For fear of creating a much more serious incident” and thus prevent the meeting, which was at stake for the EU, from taking place.
The most virulent comments were made by the French political class, at a time when relations between Paris and Ankara were marked by strong tensions. “These are pictures that hurt! I don’t want a naive, fragile Europe ”, deplored the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “It’s an affront that we will correct, but we must not let this kind of thing happen. “