Turkey committed a major diplomatic faux pas on Tuesday when a visibly frustrated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was relegated to a socially distanced sofa, while European Council chief Charles Michel sat in an armchair next to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
When the EU’s most senior officials arrived for talks with Turkey’s president, it quickly became apparent that only two chairs were laid out for the three leaders.
As head of the EU’s executive arm, Ms von der Leyen is no less senior than Mr Michel. On the opposite sofa sat Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose role ranks lower than hers.
It led to the hashtags #SofaGate and #GiveHerASeat trending on Twitter, with Ms Von der Leyen appearing exasperated by the situation in a video broadcast by the European Commission.
She stood looking at Mr Erdogan and Mr Michel and appeared to gesture with her right hand and say “um” or “ehm.”
Social media users pointed out that when Mr Erdogan met the predecessors of the two EU chiefs – who were men – all three were given seats beside each other.
"The president of the commission was clearly surprised," European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said. He added that Ms von der Leyen should have been treated "exactly in 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.
Mr Michel and Ms Von der Leyen were in Ankara for talks with Mr Erdogan about developing a closer relationship. Both EU officials said they hoped they could build better ties with Turkey, but also voiced their concerns about human rights breaches in the country.
Ms Von der Leyen was particularly critical of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty intended to protect women from violence.
“We urge Turkey to reverse its decision because it is the first international binding instrument to combat violence against women and children," she said.