Turkey has blamed the European Union for seating arrangements that left European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen standing without a chair during formalities at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
Foreign media reported on Wednesday that von der Leyen was taken aback when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel took the two centre-stage seats, relegating the EC president to an adjacent sofa across from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Erdogan and Michel came under criticism after images and a short video of the European duo’s meeting at the Palace went viral.
Juncker said it was clear to everyone that, from a protocol point of view, the president of the Council is No. 1, and the president of the Commission is No.2
"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," Cavusoglu told reporters.
Critics earlier took to social media accusing Turkey of ignoring protocol and women’s issues, prompting backlash against Ankara.
Kathimerini Greece reported that former EU Commissioner and socialist minister Anna Diamantopoulou said the head of the European Commission should have addressed the diplomatic mishap in Ankara.
“Ursula von der Leyen. should have been the protagonist of #SofaGate. She should have demanded, in front of the cameras, the observance of the protocol or leave in grand style. This is what I would have expected, as a woman and as a European,” she wrote on her official account on Twitter.
But former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who also weighed in on the issue, appeared to play down the significance of the whole incident.
Juncker suggested von der Leyen should have been treated differently but went on to clarify that when he would travel with European Council presidents, it was “clear to everyone that, from a protocol point of view, the president of the Council is No. 1, and the president of the Commission is No. 2.”
One of the issues on the agenda for discussion at the meeting was Turkey’s withdrawal from a landmark treaty on violence against women.