The “sofa-gate” incident, in which the EU Executive Committee President Van der Laan visited Turkey earlier this month and met with Turkish President Erdogan without a chair, is still burning after three weeks.
On the 6th of this month, Van der Laan and European Council President Michel met with Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey. Erdogan brought the two European leaders into the president’s living room, where only two gold-plated armchairs were set up for the main seats, and Erdogan and Michel were seated separately, leaving Van der Laan standing alone. Van der Laan’s right hand was splayed out in disbelief at the arrangement, and she then sat down on a sofa to the side.
The incident then sparked a frenzy of controversy and was referred to in the media as “Couchgate”. Initially, the country was criticized for being rude and sexist, with only one main seat assigned to two EU leaders. Some said the EU had accused Turkey of deliberately neglecting Van der Laan because of its withdrawal from the international convention against domestic violence on the 20th of last month.
But Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said the arrangement was requested by the EU. The European Council President Michel, who was seated first in the meeting, immediately became a target, with some people initiating a joint sign calling for his resignation and others blaming him for not speaking up for Van der Laan on the spot. He admitted that the matter was caused by the miscommunication between him and Van der Laan’s team.
The two leaders of the European Union visited Turkey on Saturday, but only two seats were arranged in the Turkish presidential palace, with European Council President Michel (center) and Turkish President Erdogan (right) seated first. (AFP)
However, it is difficult for Turkey to escape from the suspicion of being a stitch in time. Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987, but has not been approved so far due to human rights and other issues. Analysts say “Couchgate” is an opportunity for Turkey to stir up internal strife in the EU and humiliate women in the process.
The Washington Post pointed out that in diplomacy, the President of the European Council is indeed higher than the President of the Executive Committee of the EU, and when they are present at the same time, the President of the European Council will be greeted first and he will represent the EU, but usually both will be treated with the same courtesy.
Van der Laan, after the “sofa-gate”, initially only expressed her displeasure through her spokesperson. However, she made an emotional speech in front of MPs and Michel at the European Parliament on the 26th. She said: “As a woman and as a European, I feel hurt and alone about this. This is not about seating arrangements or diplomatic courtesy, but about the core issue of EU values. It means we have a long way to go in treating women equally.”
Michel has apologized to the EU Executive Committee and all those offended, promising that such “accidents of diplomatic courtesy” will not happen again.