A protocol misstep left the President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, on a couch on Tuesday during the meeting of the presidents of the EU institutions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. The scene, which was filmed, sparked controversy in Brussels. “Ehm”, murmurs the former German Minister of Defense, apparently distraught on this video, and seeming not to know where to settle while the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the Turkish President are wedged in the two armchairs prepared for the meeting.
Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, met #Erdogan in Ankara.
– Antoine Llorca (@antoinellorca) April 7, 2021
Ursula von der Leyen then takes place on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose function is inferior to her in the protocol hierarchy. The rebuff comes at a delicate diplomatic moment, as the EU and Turkey seek to renew relations after a year of tensions. Europeans do not hide their concerns about the violations of fundamental rights in Turkey and in particular the decision of President Erdogan to leave the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women and children.
Surprisingly silent Charles Michel
At the end of the meeting, Ursula von der Leyen did not mince words during the press conference. “I am deeply concerned that Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention,” she said. “It’s about protecting women, and protecting children from violence, and that’s clearly the wrong signal right now,” she added. “Human rights issues are not negotiable,” she insisted.
The affront to the first woman to occupy one of the two most senior positions in the EU has aroused the anger of several elected Europeans in Brussels. “First they are withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and now they are leaving the President of the European Commission without a seat on an official visit. It is shameful. #WomensRights ”, protested the president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, in a message on her Twitter account.
Ursula von der Leyen’s expression “’Ehm’ is the new term for ‘this is not how the EU-Turkey relationship should be conducted’,” commented German MEP Sergei Lagodinsky. Charles Michel was not spared by the critics. Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld wondered why the President of the Council had remained “silent” while his colleague found himself without a seat.