Ursula von der Leyen describes Turkey chair snub as sexism

In what is now described as ‘sofagate’ EU’s von der Leyen expressed feeling “hurt and alone” over the three presidents and two chairs incident on April 6. 

The European Commission’s first female president, Ursula von der Leyen, has vowed to strongly defend women’s rights after a diplomatic gaffe during her visit to Turkey. Her only explanation of the treatment she faced was the fact that she was a woman. The scandal has now been described as “sofagate” and took place when European Council President  Charles Michel and herself met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks in Ankara. 

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The Ankara meeting

The Turkey-EU meeting was organized to repair strained relations between the two nations. 

During the encounter, only two ottoman-style chairs were set out in front of both the EU and Turkish flags, yet there were three leaders present. On arrival, Michel quickly took the single chair next to that of the Turkish president, visibly leaving an annoyed Ursula to take a distant sofa from her male counterparts. In the video, we can notice a surprised Ursula mark her displeasure with an exclamation. A contrast was made with the 2017 meeting in Brussels where both EU heads sat comfortably beside the Turkish president.

Her response 

Ursula, 62,  finally gave her take on the incident during an address to EU legislators ahead of a debate on EU-Turkey ties. She began by steering the conversation away from seating arrangements or protocol. Going further to point out that being the first female president of the European Commission, she expected to be treated no differently during her visit to Ankara two weeks ago. Without name-calling, she pointed out no past shortage of chairs during such meetings, describing the treatment as “hurtful.”

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“Sofagate riles emotions”

The lapse in protocol at the Turkish presidential palace resulted in debates over Ankara’s attitude towards women while eliciting a sexism debate in Brussels. In its defense, Turkey argued that the EU’s own protocol requests were followed. However, the EU cited a lack of prior access to the room during their inspection.  

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On Monday, Michel publicly apologized arguing that he should have given up his seat instead but worried over creating a broader diplomatic incident between the already strained EU-Turkey bond. Ursula argued that the fact that the event was captured by cameras and shared across the world, was a good thing. She, however, noted that many acts of discrimination against women often go unrecorded. Going further, she continued to say that respect for women’s rights “must be a prerequisite for the resumption of relations with Turkey.”

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Taking to Twitter, she disclosed her conveyance of “deep displeasure” with Turkey withdrawing from the Istanbul convention. She went on to urge other EU member countries to ratify the treaty.  Michel also urged EU members that deeper relations with Turkey were difficult given the deterioration in human rights, including that of women. 

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