Anger grew after male leaders photographed themselves taking chairs, leaving von der Leyen standing blind before being led to a sofa.
EU lawmakers on Thursday called on the bloc’s two top officials to explain a snowballing diplomatic scandal that saw European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen left without a chair in recent talks with the president Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The fury – dubbed ‘sofagate’ online – has sparked a series of accusations over Ankara’s attitude towards women and the EU, sexism in Brussels and internal political feuds between the institutions of the bloc.
It all centered on an awkward moment at the start of talks between von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Erdogan on Tuesday in Ankara.
As the two male leaders took the only two chairs, a blind von der Leyen remained standing before being led to a nearby couch.
“EU-Turkey relations are crucial. But the unity of the EU and respect for human rights, including women’s rights, are also essential, ”wrote on Twitter the Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia Perez, leader of the socialist group and democrat in parliament. .
She said she had requested a conversation with Von der Leyen and Michel “to clarify what happened and how to respect the EU institutions”.
This call was echoed by the leader of the conservative parliamentary bloc of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, who told the Politico news site that the trip to Ankara had become “a symbol of disunity” between senior EU officials. .
The meeting with Erdogan came at a delicate time as the EU and Turkey seek to rebuild ties shaken by new tensions last year.
Von der Leyen, the first woman to head the European Commission, highlighted Brussels’ concerns over women’s rights after Erdogan’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and children.
Her spokesperson denounced the diplomatic misstep, but said she insisted on addressing the thorny issue of relations with Ankara rather than leaving the meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed Ankara’s blame and said the seating arrangements had been made “in accordance with the EU’s suggestion. Period.”
Michel was criticized in Brussels for not appearing to support his colleague and willingly accept the only available seat.
In a Facebook post, he insisted that “nothing is further from reality or from my deepest feelings” and said the “regrettable” scene was due to a Turkish protocol error.
The scandal sparked complaints from across Europe about what was seen as just the latest example of failed EU foreign policy efforts.
“These are images that hurt. I do not want a naive Europe ”, declared the French Minister for Europe, Clément Beaune.
“We are dealing with interlocutors who know the value of symbols. We have to be much more firm. “