Charles Michel appears to take Von der Leyen’s chair
And he also branded the Turkish President a “dictator” during the course of a frank assessment which prompted Ankara to summon its Italian ambassador to lodge an official protest. Together with European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Mrs von der Leyen visited Turkey for talks with Mr Erdogan on Tuesday.
I felt very sorry for the humiliation that European Commission President von der Leyen had to undergo
However, their meeting was completely overshadowed after Mr Erdogan and Mr Michel took the only two chairs available, leaving the former German defence minister to sit on a nearby sofa, after making her frustration plain.
During a press conference yesterday, Mr Draghi was asked to comment on the awkward encounter, which was captured on camera.
He said: “I felt very sorry for the humiliation that European Commission President von der Leyen had to undergo.
Ursula von der Leyen looked distinctly unimpressed as being left without a chair
Charles Miche andl Recep Tayyip Erdogan take their seats as Mrs von der Leyen looks on awkwardly
“I believe it wasn’t appropriate behaviour.”
Mr Draghi, a former President of the European Central Bank who was appointed his country’s leader on February 13, replacing predecessor Giuseppe Conte, also had strong words for Mr Erdogan.
He said: “With these – let’s call them what they are – dictators, which we however need to cooperate with one has to be frank in expressing a diversity of views, opinions, behaviours, visions of society.
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Mario Draghi speaking during yesterday’s press conference
Mevlut Cavusoglu was quick to register his disapproval
“And also has to be ready to cooperate to safeguard the interests of their country.
“This is important. We have to find the right equilibrium.”
Mr Draghi’s words prompted a strong reaction from Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, who tweeted: “We strongly condemn the unacceptable populist rhetoric of the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi and his ugly and unrelenting statements about our elected President.”
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Charles Michel, pictured with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has faced considerable criticism
Ursula von der Leyen was left to sit on a sofa
Footage from the meeting showed Mrs von der Leyen, the Commission’s first female President, and the only woman present, gesturing in disbelief and sighing in apparent irritation as Erdogan and former Belgium Prime Minister Mr Michel Charles Michel took the two centre-stage seats prepared, forcing her to sit on an adjacent sofa.
Speaking afterwards, Eric Mamer, the Commission’s chief spokesman, said: “The president of the Commission was clearly surprised.
“The president should have been seated in exactly the same manner as the president of the European Council and the Turkish president.”
Ursula von der Leyen factfile
Mr Michel has also faced criticism for his role in the situation, with Esteban González Pons, vice-president of the European Parliament’s EPP Group, saying: “The macho affair in Ankara needs proper clarification. Excuses are not enough.
“Charles Michel must publicly apologise and come to the European Parliament and assume personal responsibility for his unacceptable complacency with the shameful treatment received by President von der Leyen.”
Mr Michel sought to defend himself, issuing a statement via Facebook in which he said: “The few photographs of that meeting which have been circulated have given the impression that I was indifferent to the situation.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, or from my deeply held feelings – or indeed from the principles of respect which I hold so dear.
Esteban Gonzalez Pons (left) called on Mr Michel to apologise
“At the time, while realising the regrettable nature of the situation, we decided not to make matters worse by creating a scene.
“At the beginning of the meeting, we resolved instead to focus on the substance of the political discussions, which Ursula and I were to embark upon with our hosts.”
Meanwhile, Politico has reported that the controversy could have been even worse for Mrs von der Leyen.
Turkey had initially planned to treat her as a mere aide of Mr Michel, one of four sat on smaller chairs in front of his much larger one, according to “a person familiar with the arrangements”.