“SofaGate”: No chair for von der Leyen

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A joke photograph of the high-level assembly in Ankara shortly made the rounds amongst EU officers on social networks. The photomontage exhibits Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with EU Council President Charles Michel on their ceremonial chairs with Turkish and European flags. In entrance of them, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is proven performing a conventional Oriental stomach dance.

“SofaGate” was the identify given to the ill-fated assembly. Only Michel was supplied a chair subsequent to the Turkish president. Von der Leyen observed the provocation, however after a second’s astonishment sat down with a loud “Ummm” on a settee positioned at a respectful distance from the distinguished gents, reverse Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who later rejected the large criticism of von der Leyen’s disparagement.

The EU illustration in Ankara had requested the seating association, the Turks have claimed.

But the pinnacle of the EU delegation in Ankara is the skilled German prime diplomat Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who beforehand served for a few years as Germany’s EU ambassador in Brussels and would in all probability not have accepted such a snub. A fee spokesman careworn that von der Leyen ought to have been seated on an equal footing by way of protocol “just like the president of the European Council and the Turkish president”.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi indignantly referred to as Erdogan a dictator with dangerous manners. Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned in opposition to “naivety” in relations with Turkey. “All too often, Ankara has already bitterly disappointed expectations in terms of a lasting improvement. What we need is a realistic and pragmatic approach to Turkey, not blind advance payments by the EU,” Schallenberg stated.

Even if von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared that he had typically sat on a settee at such conferences “as the EU’s number two” – the seating association at such formal conferences is usually intentionally utilized by hosts as a diplomatic weapon. Similar protocol incidents had already made the headlines a number of occasions up to now.

Among different issues, there had been huge criticism in Turkey when the Turkish ambassador to Israel was positioned on a settee in 2010 that was considerably decrease than the chair of the then deputy international minister Danny Ayalon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced his canine to a gathering with Angela Merkel in 2007 – who’s extensively recognized to be afraid of canines.

In 2000, Austria’s Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, in opposition to whose authorities his 14 EU colleagues had imposed sanctions on the time due to his coalition with the right-wing populist social gathering FPÖ, had been placed on a type of “cat’s table” on the EU summit in Lisbon.

Michel, the present EU Council President, can be partly guilty for the scandal. According to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Michel had his personal chief of protocol with him, who had gone via the seating preparations with the hosts and raised no objections. Thus, the delegation of the European Commission had already been positioned worse than Michel’s workforce within the reception room and at lunch. 

Of course, Michel, as a gentleman, may have supplied von der Leyen his chair and sat down on the couch himself. That would even have been a sublime gesture in direction of Erdogan, who beforehand denounced and later withdrew Turkey from the UN Convention on the Prevention of Violence in opposition to Women. 

The finest response to diplomatic pushback which have I skilled was once I accompanied the then-EU Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, on her go to to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2005. In Ramallah, she wished to speak to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, however on the identical time the then-French Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, was there. The Palestinian Authority ranked the Frenchman greater than the EU consultant, though the EU Commission was the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority. 

They wished to fob off the previous Austrian international minister with the PLO international consultant. But the previous UN protocol chief (beneath Boutros Boutros-Ghali) observed the drawback and defended herself vigorously. She resolutely entered the eating room the place the PLO management beneath Abbas was having a working lunch with Barnier.

The unsettled Barnier supplied Ferrero-Waldner a seat on the desk, however Ferrero waved him off, saying she needed to return to Israel for vital conferences. But first, she needed to consult with Abbas. She spoke and resolutely led Abbas by the hand out of the corridor to his workplace the place she spoke with him for an hour. I’ll always remember the surprised look on Barnier’s face as his host was kidnapped.