A joke of a high-level meeting in Ankara quickly made EU officials stir on social media. The photo shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council President Charles Michel on ceremonial chairs with Turkish and European flags. In front of them, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is performing a traditional oriental belly dance.
“SofaGate” is the name given to the fateful meeting. Only Michel was offered a seat next to the Turkish president. Von der Leyen found the provocation, but after a moment of surprise, he sat down and shouted an “Ummm” on a sofa placed at a respectful distance with prominent gentlemen, opposite the Department. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, person then dismissed major criticisms of von der Leyen’s disparage.
The EU representative in Ankara requested the seating arrangement, the Turkish side stated.
But the head of the EU delegation in Ankara is the experienced German diplomat Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who had been for many years Germany’s EU ambassador to Brussels and would probably not accept such rejection. A committee spokesperson emphasized that von der Leyen should have had the same protocol-equal position “as the president of the Council of Europe and the president of Turkey”.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has indignantly called Erdogan a dictator with poor manners. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned against “innocence” in relations with Turkey. “Frequently, Ankara has bitterly disappointed expectations for long-term improvement. What we need is a practical and pragmatic approach towards Turkey, not blind EU prepayments, ”said Schallenberg.
Even when von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, claimed that he used to sit on the sofa at meetings like “EU number two” – the seating arrangements at formal meetings were like This is often intentionally used by the homeowner as a diplomatic weapon. Similar protocol issues have appeared on the headline several times in the past.
Among other things, there was much criticism in Turkey when the Turkish ambassador to Israel was placed on a sofa in 2010, significantly lower than that of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon when there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brought his dog to a meeting with Angela Merkel in 2007 – who is widely known to be afraid of dogs.
In 2000, Austrian Prime Minister Wolfgang Schüssel, against the government to which 14 of his EU colleagues imposed sanctions at the time for his alliance with the right-wing populist party FPÖ, was brought in. “cat’s desk” at the EU summit in Lisbon.
Michel, the current EU Council President, is also partly responsible for the scandal. According to German Handelsblatt, Michel had his own ritual chief accompanying him, who had arranged seats with the host and had no objection. Therefore, the delegation of the European Commission was classified as inferior to Michel’s group in the reception room and during lunch.
Of course, Michel, as a gentleman, could offer von der Leyen his chair and sit down on the sofa himself. It would also be an elegant gesture for Erdogan, who had previously denounced and then withdrew Turkey from the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Violence Against Women.
The best response to the diplomatic objection I experienced was when I was accompanied by the then European Union High Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, on her visit to Israel and the Territory. Palestinian Territory in 2005. In Ramallah, she wants to talk to the President of Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas, but then French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was also there. The Palestinian Authority ranks the French above the EU representative, even though the EU Commission is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority.
They wanted to bid farewell to the former Austrian foreign minister and foreign representatives of the PLO. But the former head of the UN protocol committee (under Boutros Boutros-Ghali) saw the disadvantage and strongly defended himself. She resolutely entered the dining room where the PLO leadership under Abbas was having a lunch with Barnier.
The unstable Barnier suggested Ferrero-Waldner to sit at the table, but Ferrero rejected him and said she had to return to Israel for important meetings. But first, she had to make a convention with Abbas. She said and firmly led Abbas out of the hall to his office, where she had been talking to him for an hour. I will never forget the stunned look on Barnier’s face when his host was kidnapped.