Turkey has rejected accusations it snubbed one of the European Union’s most powerful executives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen because of her gender.
Organisers behind the meeting at the Turkish presidential palace insisted that the European Union’s own protocol requests were applied during a meeting at the Turkish presidential palace.
The incident has sparked accusations of gender discrimination, with criticism for both the Turkish hosts and Mr Michel’s decision to sit down while his colleague remained standing.
Dutch Euro MP Sophie in ‘t Veld complained it was a deliberate slight by the Turks that “puts into question the equal treatment” of Mrs von der Leyen.
Ms von der Leyen and European Council chief Charles Michel met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on Turkey-EU relations on Tuesday. The guests were led into a large room for discussions with Mr Erdogan, but only two chairs had been set out in front of the EU and Turkish flags for the three leaders.
In what is now being dubbed ‘Sofa-gate’ she was left to sit on the sofa away from her male counterparts, but made her feelings known with an audible “Ahem”.
Following criticism and accusations of gender discrimination Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had come under “extremely unfair” criticism over the visit and alleged slight shown to Ms von der Leyen.
“Turkey is a deep-rooted state and this is not the first time it has hosted a visitor,” Mr Cavusoglu said. “The protocol applied during its (international) meetings is in line with international protocol rules as well as the world-renowned Turkish hospitality traditions.”
“The protocol that was applied during the narrow-scope meeting that was held at our president’s office met the requests of the EU side.
“Such a seating arrangement was made in line with the suggestions of the EU side. Period,” he said.
The European Commission said at the time that Mrs von der Leyen expected the institution she represented to be treated with appropriate protocol and that she had asked her team to ensure it never happened again.
EU Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said on the matter: “She decided to proceed nevertheless, prioritising substance over protocol, but nevertheless let me stress the president expects the institution she represents to be treated with the required protocol”
READ MORE: Article 16 Northern Ireland: EU ends threat to override NI Brexit deal in bid to control vaccine exports
Mr Michel said he was “saddened by any suggestion that I may have been indifferent to the protocol misstep with respect to Ursula”.
MEPs are urging European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to answer questions over the issue.
Iratxe García, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group has asked for plenary debate with von der Leyen and Michel to “clarify what happened and how to respect the European institutions”
She branded Turkey’s decision to leave the Istanbul convention “shameful” also condemning the “micromachismo and rudeness” of both Mr Erdogan and Charles Michel.
She tweeted: “EU-Turkey relations are crucial, but #EU unity and respect for human rights, including women’s rights, are also key.”
Turkey’s recently pulled out of the Istanbul convention on violence against women