(dpa) – Two chairs, three leaders: the European Commission on Wednesday expressed its disappointment about its chief Ursula von der Leyen having been relegated to a sofa, while her counterpart from the European Council was offered a chair next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
During a meeting with Erdogan, only one chair was available next to Erdogan, to which European Council President Charles Michel was directed, while von der Leyen had to sit down on a sofa further away – prompting speculation on social media of sexism or a purposeful affront against the commission.
Visibly astonished in videos circulated after the meeting, she sat down as the meeting began.
“The president was clearly surprised,” her spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters on Wednesday, adding that she had asked her team to “take all appropriate contacts” to ensure that this would not happen again.
Von der Leyen leads the EU executive, which proposes laws and passes some legislative acts, among other duties. As European Council President, Michel is responsible for organizing meetings between EU leaders.
“The important thing is that the president should have been seated exactly in the same manner as the president of the European Council and the Turkish president,” Mamer said.
In a late Wednesday Facebook post, Michel also addressed the incident.
“The few images broadcast gave the impression that I was not aware of this situation,” the former Belgian prime minister wrote. “Nothing could be further from reality or from my deepest feelings.”
Faced with a “regrettable” situation, both EU leaders decided to focus on the substance of the meeting rather than cause a “public incident,” according to Michel.
The two officials travelled to Ankara in a bid to reset EU-Turkish relations Turkey after a flare-up in tensions over disputed eastern Mediterranean natural gas resources.
They also raised Turkey’s recent withdrawal from the Istanbul convention on tackling violence against women and children, as well their concerns about the rule of law and freedom of expression in the country, Michel said.