Charles Michel appears to take Von der Leyen’s chair
Commission chief Mrs von der Leyen slammed President of the European Council Charles Michel and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for denying her a seat earlier this month at the summit in Ankara. The German said she felt “hurt” and “alone” by the events, insisting the incident had only happened because she was a woman. In an unprecedented attack on her colleague, Mrs von der Leyen told MEPs: “I am the first woman to be president of the European Commission. I am the President of the European Commission. This is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a Commission President. But I was not.
“I cannot find any justification for how I was treated in any 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 pictures of previous meetings I did not see any shortage of chairs but then again I did not see any pictures of women neither.”
Footage of the talks went viral only after Mrs von der Leyen’s two male peers grabbed only two available chairs. She was left standing alone and uttered “ahem”.
Neither offered her a seat. Instead, the Commission boss was forced to sit on a separate sofa during talks on Turkey’s relations with the EU, including President Erdogan’s decision to quit a treaty protecting women’s rights.
Ursula von der Leyen denounced Charles Michel for leaving her without a seat at a meeting in Turkey
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Mrs von der Leyen insisted that the EU would need to forge its own laws to protect women as many member states have also not ratified the Istanbul Convention.
She added: “Of course I know that I am in a privileged position.
“I am the president of an institution which is highly respected all around the world, and even more important, as a leader, I can speak up and make myself heard.
“But what about the millions of women who cannot. Women who are heard every day in every corner of our planet. But neither have the power, nor hold the office to speak up.
Charles Michel is the president of the European Council
“When I arrived at the meeting, there were cameras in the room.
“Thanks to them, the short video of my arrival immediately went viral, and caused headlines around the world. There was no need for subtitles. There was no need for translations, the images, spoke for themselves.
“But we all know, thousands of similar incidents, most of them far more serious go unobserved, nobody ever sees them, or hears about them, because there is no camera, because there is nobody paying attention. We have to make sure that these stories are told too”.
Ursula von der Leyen left standing at ‘Sofagate’ meeting in Ankara
Before Mrs von der Leyen’s attack on him, Mr Michel said he would ensure a similar “protect incident” would never be repeated.
He said: “I have expressed my regret, publicly for the situation that was created. My apologies to the commission, and all those who felt offended.
“The facts behind it are well known, the council protocol team did not get access to the meeting room before the meeting was held, and the commission did not send its protocol team in advance. The teams did not enjoy access to seat allocation before the meeting started.
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“Ursula von der Leyen and myself have committed to ensure that that situation can no longer occur in the future, and we’ve given instructions along those lines to our protocol and diplomatic teams.”
He added: “I know that these circumstances led a number of you to believe that at that point I should have taken a different line of conduct, and obviously I hear that criticism, but at that time, and without the hindsight we all have today, I decided not to react further so as not to create a political incident that I thought would be still more serious and would risk ruining months of political and diplomatic groundwork, made by all our teams at a European level.
“Now, of course, I understand the images will have offended many women, and I would like to reaffirm my total full and absolute commitment to support women and gender equality. This is a matter that I’ve regularly dealt with in my political career.”