European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday blamed sexism for the diplomatic "sofagate" debacle in Turkey earlier this month.
She said she felt “hurt and alone” after a chair was not left out for her alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during high-level talks two weeks ago.
The faux pas in Ankara sparked outrage when only two seats were left out for the meeting between Mr Erdogan, Ms von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, despite all three being of equivalent diplomatic rank.
Ms von der Leyen was relegated to a nearby sofa facing a more junior official, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, although Turkey rejected accusations of a protocol blunder.
“I am the first woman to be President of the European Commission. I am the President of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago – like a Commission President. But I was not,” she told the European Parliament.
“I cannot find any justification … in the European treaties. So, I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman.
“Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie? In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any women in these pictures either.
“I felt hurt and I felt alone, as a woman and as a European.”
In previous meetings between Mr Erdogan and the predecessors of Mr Michel and Ms von der Leyen – all of whom were men – the three leaders were given armchairs beside each other.
Mr Michel reiterated on Tuesday that his protocol team had not been allowed access to the meeting room in Ankara beforehand to check seating arrangements.
Speaking to the European Parliament before Ms von der Leyen, he said he did not raise the issue at the time so as not to create a political issue.