President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said she was treated poorly “because I am a woman” when she had to sit on a sofa rather than beside Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in the country’s presidential palace.
The German said she felt “hurt and alone” when Charles Michel, her colleague at the EU, took the only seat beside Erdogan during an Ankara meeting in early April.
Von der Leyen, who was visibly annoyed at the arrangement when it happened, then sat away from the pair on a sofa.
“I am the first woman to be president of the European Commission. I am the president of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago. Like a commission president, but I was not,” Von der Leyen told EU lawmakers.
“I cannot find any justification for (how) I was treated in the 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?
“I felt hurt, and I felt alone, as a woman, and as a European. Because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are.
“This goes to the values our union stands for, and this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals, always and everywhere,” she said.
Charles Michel, who is president of the European Council, apologised for the incident yesterday, telling reporters he should have given up his seat but that he did not want to cause a diplomatic incident.
Von der Leyen praised reporters at the meeting for making the incident known to the world.
“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.”
#Ankara What happened is a serious political disrespect. It is not just about a woman being left without a seat, but about the President of the @EU_Commission, one of the most representative figures of the EU istitutions, left without one. My solidarity to Ursula @vonderleyen. pic.twitter.com/cOcdVO824W
— Antonio Tajani (@Antonio_Tajani) April 7, 2021