Turkey: Von Der Leyen 'could have been set up' says expert
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Footage from their meeting on Tuesday showed the first female head of the EU executive, the only woman in the talks, gesturing in disbelief and uttering a surprised sigh as Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel took the two centre-stage seats prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa. “The President of the Commission was clearly surprised,” said Ms von der Leyen’s spokesman, Eric Mamer. But the mishap might have been the fault of the EU Council, an expert has claimed.
France 24 correspondent Dave Keating said: “A Commission spokesperson was very clear that the two presidents should be treated equally on foreign visits.
“Clearly from previous visits, that’s the case. Even a visit by the two presidents in 2015 shows the two presidents seated with Erdogan but at that time the two presidents happened to be men.”
Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister who was seated Tuesday on another couch, said on Thursday the seating arrangement was in line with international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations”.
“Turkey is a deep-rooted state, it is not the first time it hosts a guest.
“The protocol followed for meetings in Turkey is within the international protocol framework. The same was done here too,” he told reporters in Ankara.
“The protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side. In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.”
Mr Keating added: “The question now being asked is did the council somehow set this up to make President von der Leyen look bad?
“It was either Turkey or the council.”
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In a Facebook post published on Wednesday, President Michel said the incident was “regrettable” and caused by “Turkish authorities’ strict interpretation of protocol rules.”
The Council President however claimed he had decided against confronting the Turkish President publicly.
While the Commission conveyed von der Leyen’s irritation, an EU official who declined to be named said doing so might have provoked a “protocol and political incident.”
An official said: “Turkey meant no disrespect.
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“It extended a very courteous welcome to both presidents and strictly adhered to international protocol.”
In the past, three chairs were provided when the Turkish leader visited Brussels for talks with heads of the Commission and the European Council.
Mr Mamer said President von der Leyen decided not to make “an issue out of it” and in the conversation brought up women’s rights and the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, from which Turkey withdrew last month.
Brussels and Ankara are testing a cautious rapprochement after ties were strained when a coup attempt in 2016 prompted a crackdown on civil rights in Turkey.
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