Turkey blames EU for ‘SofaGate’ diplomatic debacle
Foreign minister says seating arrangements were in line with EU suggestions
Turkey blamed the EU for the SofaGate debacle that left European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen without a chair and relegated to a nearby sofa at a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said criticism of his country was unfair.
The diplomatic faux pas went viral this week after footage emerged of the meeting in Ankara on Tuesday, where Mr Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel took up the only two chairs, placed in front of the EU and Turkish flags.
Ms Von der Leyen – whose diplomatic rank is equal to those of the two men – was left standing and visibly frustrated. She took a seat on a sofa opposite Mr Cavusoglu, a more junior figure.
"The seating arrangements were made in line with the EU suggestion. Period. We would not be revealing this fact had accusations not been made against Turkey," Mr Cavusoglu said.
"The demands and suggestions of the EU side were met and the proper protocol applied during the meeting," he said.
The furore led to the hashtags #SofaGate and #GiveHerASeat trending on Twitter. It was noted that when Mr Erdogan met the predecessors of the two EU leaders – who were both men – the three were given seats beside each other.
"The president of the commission was clearly surprised," European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said on Wednesday. He said that Ms Von der Leyen should have been treated "in exactly the same manner" as Mr Michel.
"She does consider that these issues are important and need to be treated appropriately, which they clearly were not," Mr Mamer said.
Writing on Facebook on Wednesday, Mr Michel said he realised that the scene gave "the impression that I was oblivious to this situation".
But he blamed it on a "protocol blunder" by Turkey that he and Ms Von der Leyen decided to overlook at the time.
The two EU leaders "chose not to worsen it by making a public incident", Mr Michel wrote.
"I am sad that this situation eclipsed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we carried out together in Ankara, and of which I hope Europe will reap the benefits."
The high-level talks were focused on the EU and Turkey developing a closer relationship, amid signs tensions that surged last year could be easing.
Updated: April 8, 2021 02:53 PM