The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, reacted this Wednesday night to the “painful” and “unfortunate” situation lived on a recent official trip to Turkey with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who received a “differential treatment, even reduced” by the Ankara authorities, something that “saddens him”.
In a message posted on his Facebook account, Michel broke the silence he has maintained since the controversial meeting that he and Von der Leyen held on Tuesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which the head of the Community Executive was relegated to a secondary position.
Erdogan and Michel sat in the center of a large hall on two chairs, while Von der Leyen was placed on a side sofa.
The treatment received by Von der Leyen, who has the same rank that the President of the Council generated a cascade of criticism by the press and politicians, while his team initiated a series of contacts with the parties involved in this meeting to ensure that such an “incident” is not “repeated in the future.”
The Commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, stressed on Wednesday that the German “should have received exactly the same seat “ than Michel and Erdogan at the meeting.
These are some images that, according to Michel acknowledged, provoked “reactions and sometimes harsh interpretations” with the Turkish authorities, but also with himself for not being reactive.
Michel explained that the incident “saddens” him for two reasons.
First of all, by having given the “impression of being indifferent to the clumsiness of Turkish protocol” towards Von der Leyen, when he has the “honor” of being part of a European project in which currently two of the four main institutions, the Commission and the Central Bank (Christine Lagarde) are led by women.
In addition, he says he is “proud” that a woman, Sophie Vilmès, the first in Belgium, succeeded him as prime minister.
Second, he is saddened that this situation has “overshadowed the important and beneficial geopolitical work” which he assures that he and Von der Leyen performed together in Ankara, and from which he hopes that Europe will obtain “benefits”.
Michel stressed in this regard that this visit marked “an important moment in the complex process of improving relations between the European Union and Turkey” and was “the result of careful preparation and many months of diplomatic work “ for the country “return to adopt a more constructive approach” with the EU.
“And despite a clear will to do the right thing, the strict interpretation of protocol rules on the part of the Turkish services produced a painful situation: the differential treatment, even diminished “to Von der Leyen, said Michel.
They chose to “not aggravate” the situation
The Belgian politician regretted that “the few images that have circulated have given the impression that he would have been insensitive to this situation. Nothing is further from reality or my feelings deeper and the principles of respect that I consider essential. “
At the time, Michel said, although both he and Von der Leyen were “aware of the regrettable nature of the situation,” they chose “not to aggravate it with a public incident,” ande focused on “the bottom line of political discussion” with your hosts.
The essential thing was, he said, in particular, the defense they made before Erdogan on “the Istanbul Convention, the rights of women and children and, more broadly, the defense of our fundamental values of the Rule of Law, the freedom of expression and press “.
This protocol incident, baptized in social networks as “Sofagate”, never occurred in the past in meetings of the previous presidents of the Council (Donald Tusk) and the Commission (Jean-Claude Juncker) with Erdogan, as can be seen in the newspaper archives.