Turkey yesterday strongly rejected accusations that it snubbed Ursula von der Leyen, one of the European Union’s most powerful executives, because of her gender, insisting that the EU’s own protocol requests were applied during a meeting at the Turkish presidential palace.
Von der Leyen, the European Commission president, and European Council chief Charles Michel met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on EU-Turkey relations on Tuesday.
The two guests were led into a large room for discussions with Erdogan, but only two chairs had been set out in front of the EU and Turkish flags for the three leaders. Von der Leyen stood looking at the men who took the chairs, expressing her astonishment with a “ehm” sound and a gesture of disappointment.
She was later seen seated on a large beige sofa, away from her male counterparts.
The images drew intense criticism on social media and accusations of gender discrimination.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had come under “extremely unfair” criticism over the visit and alleged slight.
“Turkey is a deep-rooted state and this is not the first time that it has hosted a visitor,” Cavusoglu said.
“The protocol applied during its (international) meetings is in line with international protocol rules as well as the world-renowned Turkish hospitality traditions.”
Cavusoglu insisted that Turkish and EU officials in charge of protocol had held meetings before the visit and that the arrangement was in line with EU requests. “The protocol that was applied during the narrow-scope meeting that was held at our president’s office met the requests of the EU side. In other words, such a seating arrangement was made in line with the suggestions of the EU side,” he said.
The minister added that he felt obliged to lay the blame on the EU publicly after accusations from even “the highest levels of the EU.”
Facing a barrage of questions for the second straight day, EU Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer did not comment on the Turkish’ version of the incident, and tried to downplay it.
“If you look at the president’s statements, what she put on her Twitter account, etc … you will see that there is no mention of this event,” Mamer said.
“Let’s not exaggerate the importance that we gave to this event. We will make sure things are clarified so future missions go ahead according to a common perception of protocol measures.”