Former head of EU Commission Juncker says, “From a protocol point of view, the president of the Council is No 1, and the president of the Commission is No 2,” referring to the von der Leyen “Sofagate.”
European diplomats have pointed out that Turkey has no responsibility for the protocol arrangement of Tuesday's meeting between the EU officials and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as it took place in line with EU protocol requirements.
Jean-Claude Juncker, former head of the EU Commission, evaluated the criticism in the European press over the seat arrangement of the Tuesday meeting in the capital Ankara in which Charles Michel, head of the EU Council, sat down next to Erdogan in a separate chair while Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission was seated at a nearby couch.
"When I was traveling with [Donald] Tusk or [Herman] Van Rompuy, I always respected that protocol order ... Normally I had a chair next to the chair of the president of the Council, but sometimes it happened that I was sitting on a sofa," Juncker told POLITICO in a phone interview.
Saying that the protocol for von der Leyen should be different, he said that it should be “clear for 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.”
'Protocol is EU's responsibility'
French diplomat Gerard Araud, who previously served as ambassador to Israel, the UN, and the US, also mentioned the EU rules on protocol and said Turkey has no responsibility for the issue.
Responding to tweets shared by some journalists who criticised Turkey, Araud said that protocol is the EU's responsibility, not Turkey.
Former Italian Ambassador to Ankara Carlo Marsili said he found the charges of "sexism" against President Erdogan irrelevant. Speaking to the Adnkronos agency, Marsili said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited Turkey many times and such a situation never happened.
Eric Mamer, EU Commission's spokesperson, said that everyone should focus on EU-Turkey relations, heads of EU institutions should be treated equally and that he asked von der Leyen's team to take necessary measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Some had criticised the seating arrangements at Tuesday's meeting, where the Turkish president and the EU Council head sat down in separate chairs while von der Leyen was initially left standing.
She was then offered a seat on a couch, with Cavusoglu also sitting down on a separate couch opposite her.