“sofagate”: Mario Draghi Qualifies Erdogan As “dictator”, Turkey Condemns

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New episode in the “sofagate” affair: Turkey castigated Thursday April 8 for “unjust accusations” after the protocol affront felt by the President of the European Commission in Ankara, affirming that the arrangement of the armchairs at the heart of the controversy had been suggested by the European side. Thursday evening, the head of the Italian government Mario Draghi even called Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a “dictator” and declared himself “very heartbroken by the humiliation that the President of the Commission had to endure”. These comments were described as “populist, offensive and unreasonable” by the head of Turkish diplomacy Mevlut Cavusoglu, who summoned the Italian ambassador to Ankara.

Earlier, at a press conference, he said that “the accusations against Turkey are unfair. Turkey is a deeply rooted state and this is not the first time that we have welcomed foreign dignitaries ”. “The EU’s demands have been respected. This means that the seating arrangement was made at their request. Our protocol services met before the meeting and their requests (from the EU) were respected, ”he added.

“If the room had been visited …”

But the protocol service of the European Council, an institution chaired by Charles Michel, argued Thursday that he had not had prior access to the room where the meeting was to take place. “If the room had been visited, we would have suggested to our hosts that, as a courtesy, the sofa be replaced by two armchairs for the President of the Commission,” said the service in a letter.

The scene was filmed and widely broadcast on social media. Under the hashtag #Sofagate, she sparked many comments on the unequal treatment between the two heads of the European institutions, and its sexist character. “Ehm”, murmurs the former German Minister of Defense, apparently distraught: standing, she seems not to know where to settle while Charles Michel and the Turkish president are wedged in the two armchairs prepared for the meeting. Ursula von der Leyen then sits on a sofa, behind the two men, facing the Turkish Foreign Minister.

“The meeting should have sent a message of firmness and unity”

On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen made known her displeasure at being placed on the back seat and demanded to be treated as the equal of the President of the Council. Its spokesperson affirmed that “the presidents of the two institutions have the same protocol rank” but the European Council, the body representing the member states, however indicated that its president had precedence over the Commission for the international protocol. The major political groups of the European Parliament deplored Thursday the image of disunity given by the presidents of the institutions during their meeting with the Turkish president and asked them to come and explain themselves in plenary.

“The meeting in Ankara of Presidents von der Leyen and Michel should have sent a message of firmness and unity of the European approach towards Turkey. Unfortunately, it has resulted in a symbol of disunity, the presidents having failed to form a united front when necessary, ”lamented the German Manfred Weber, president of the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) (right pro-European ).

“It’s an affront that we will correct”

The president of the Socialists and Democrats group, the Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez, also asked for the hearing of the presidents of the two institutions “to clarify what happened” and to see “how to ensure respect for the European institutions”. Charles Michel assured Thursday “deeply regret” what happened in Ankara during a televised intervention in Belgium. He explained that he had not reacted “for fear of creating a much more serious incident” and thus preventing the holding of the meeting, the stakes of which were high for the EU.

The case has sparked indignant reactions in Europe, especially since it occurred a few weeks after Ankara’s withdrawal from a European convention on the prevention of violence against women. The most virulent comments were made by the French political class, at a time when relations between Paris and Ankara were marked by strong tensions. “These are pictures that hurt! I do not want a naive, fragile Europe, ”lamented Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “It is an affront that we will correct, but we must not let this kind of thing happen.”

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