France says Turkey deliberately snubbed EU chief as women’s groups call on Michel to resign

Turkey set a “trap” for Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, by making her to sit on a sofa off to the side during the EU top team’s visit to Ankara, French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said.

“It was an insult from Turkey, deliberately done towards us,” French news website RTL cited Beaune as saying on Sunday.

Ursula von der Leyen was left standing without a chair at a top-level EU meeting with Erdoğan on Tuesday. Von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm, stood visibly perplexed as Erdoğan and EU Council chief Charles Michel settled into two gilded Ottoman-style chairs flanked by EU and Turkish flags at the presidential palace in Ankara.

After an awkward moment of silence, von der Leyen, the first female president of the European Commission, was offered a seat on a beige sofa four metres away.

The incident stirred criticism against Turkey from the European capitals but also within Brussels, blaming Michel’s stance over it.

Meanwhile, European women’s associations have written a letter to Michel, calling for his resignation over what has been dubbed as the “Sofagate” incident.  

The petition has received over 2,500 signatures in less than two days in Belgium, France, Italy and even outside the European Union, urging Michel to step down, the Brussels Times reported on Sunday, saying that leaving von der Leyen without a seat was “an affront to all women.”

Turkey has rejected the accusations over the incident, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying on Thursday, “the seating arrangements were made in line with the EU’s wishes.”

Michel's staff, on the other hand, said that they had no access to the meeting room before the event, however underlining that the “Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol,” RTL said.

“The Turkish presidency's failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the EU Council chief Charles Michel was an insult from Turkey. It behaved badly and we shouldn't be stirring up guilt among Europeans,” French minister said.

"It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I'd rather place the blame on the one who laid it," Beaune said.

According to the French minister, Turkey is failing to respect democracy and there is an autocratic drift in the country.

“This should prompt Europeans to be very firm with the Turks."

In response to the sofa incident, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday also called Erdoğan a “dictator.”