by Miceál O’Hurley
ANKARA – Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stands accused of a purposefully slighting European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, during a visit to Ankara along with European Council President, her colleague, Charles Michel. On Tuesday, 6 April 2021, von der Leyen and Michel visited Erdogan only for Turkey’s President to offer Michel a matching gilded chair along side his at the focal point of the room, relegating von der Leyen to awkwardly standing alone in the room without initially being offered a seat, whatsoever.
European Commission President von der Leyen is considered an equal of European Council President Michel in terms of diplomatic rank. Erdogan’s seemingly purposeful slight may well have been designed as an affront to publicly embarrass von der Leyen for her recent criticism of Turkey for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an international Treaty which provided protections for vulnerable women. Erdogan used Presidential Decree to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention despite Turkey suffering from a culture of femicides and domestic violence in which women routinely suffered from a lack of protections in law and/or practice.
During the event, which was publicly televised and shared widely on social media and through international news organisation, von der Leyen is left bewildered as her male European counterpart, Michel. In a lingering moment of effrontery, von der Leyen finally cleared her throat with an audible “e’hem” to draw attention to her being left standing and ignored while Erdogan and Michel sat and began conferring. Eventually, von der Leyen was offered a seat on a sofa, pointedly on the sidelines, opposite Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, maintaining Erdogan and Michel in places of honour. Çavuşoğlu notably occupies a significantly lesser diplomatic rank than von der Leyen. During previous meetings of the European Commission, European Council and Turkish Presidents meeting the three were seated as co-equals. Turkey, as the meeting host, was responsible for organising seating and ensuring diplomatic protocols were properly observed.
In response to observers and analysts noting the purposeful slight inflicted upon von der Leyen, Chief Spokesperson for the European Commission, Eric Mamer, stated that von der Leyen “was clearly surprised and that is something which you can see from the video.” Responding to questions about it being an intended insult to von der Leyen, Mamer offered a restrained but directed response laying responsibility at the feet of Turkey’s President, Erdogan, “It’s difficult to judge the reasons why she was offered one type of seat rather than another, that’s something which you’d have to ask the Turkish authorities about.”
Diplomat Ireland has contacted the European Council, Office of the President of Turkey and the Embassy of Turkey in Dublin for comment without response prior to publication. Diplomat Ireland understand that Turkey’s Ambassador has yet to present his credentials at Áras an Uachtaráin and it is customary for diplomats to refrain from responding to media requests until they have done so.