Von der Leyen stood staring at them, gesturing with his right hand and appearing to say “um” or “ehm.”
She was eventually offered a beige sofa approx. 12 meters away, facing Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who occupies a lower status rank in typical diplomatic protocol.
“‘Ehm’ is the new expression for ‘this is not how EU-Turkey relations should be’. #GiveHerASeat #EU #Turkey #womensrights, ”tweeted Sergey Lagodinsky, a German member of the European Parliament who chairs the legislature’s delegation to a joint EU-Turkey parliamentary committee.
Another Member of the European Parliament, the Dutch legislator Sophie in ‘t Veld, noted that in three meetings between Erdogan and the former couple of EU presidents, who were both men, the three leaders sat side by side in similar stole.
“It was not accidental, it was deliberate,” she wrote on Twitter, with some people explaining the incident as more about social distance than protocol. “Why was @eucopresident silent?” she wrote using Michel’s Twitter handle to ask why he did not offer his more advanced space to his counterpart.
Critics had already targeted the visit, which came two weeks after Erdogan withdrew Turkey from an international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, known as the Istanbul Convention. Erdogan allies said the movement did not mean that women’s rights were downgraded.
Von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, and Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, are typically treated as equivalents in rank. As head of the European Commission, von der Leyen leads the EU’s executive wing and oversees the bloc’s bloc’s membership negotiations on Turkey. Michel represents the leaders of the 27 individual EU member states
Prior to the chair-and-sofa diplomacy episode, the three leaders posed for images that stood together, von der Leyen to Erdogan’s left and Michel to the right for a more standard representation of their status. Only then did von der Leyen appear to be led to the side.
The official EU video was shot from behind von der Leyen and showed the scene playing from her perspective.
After the meeting, von der Leyen did not directly mention the incident. But she expressed concern over Turkey’s record on women’s rights.
“I am deeply concerned about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention,” she told reporters. “This is about protecting women and protecting children from violence. And this is definitely the wrong signal right now. ”