World

Turkey blames EU in ‘sofagate’ diplomatic spat

What began as an attempt to repair tense European Union (EU-Turkey) relations has turned into a diplomatic spat that has been dubbed “sofagate”.

When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left standing because of a lack of chairs in Ankara, she reacted with an audible “Ahem”.

Neither Turkey’s president nor Mrs von der Leyen’s EU colleague Charles Michel came out of it looking all that good.

But Turkey has now laid the blame on the EU for “unjust accusations”.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was adamant on Thursday: “The protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side. In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.”

That is not quite how Mr Michel saw it, the former Belgian prime minister, who represents the EU’s 27 member states as Council president.

He pointed in a Facebook post to Turkey’s “strict interpretation of the protocol rules… [that] gave rise to a distressing situation: the differentiated – even inferior – treatment accorded to the president of the European Commission”.

The meeting at Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential palace followed months of “meticulous preparation and diplomatic effort”, as Mr Michel made clear.

But when the three leaders came to sit down, there were just two chairs, one with a Turkish flag behind it, the other with an EU flag. The two men took their seats in two gilded Ottoman-style chairs, while the Commission president was left standing, making her displeasure absolutely clear with an “Ahem” (“Ähm” in her native German).

Mrs von der Leyen eventually sat down on a sofa, well away from the Turkish leader and opposite the Turkish foreign minister.

There was precedent here. When the Turkish leader visited Brussels in 2017, the two men heading the European Commission and Council sat beside him in comfy armchairs.

Video of the Commission president’s discomfort went viral, with criticism of both the Turkish hosts and Mr Michel’s decision to sit down while his colleague remained standing.

Dutch Euro Member of Parliament (MP) Sophie Veld complained it was a deliberate slight by the Turks that “puts into question the equal treatment” of Mrs von der Leyen, and that it was not a coincidence she was the only woman in the room. -BBC

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