Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, has claimed that she was denied a chair because she is a woman during a meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey this month. The president of the European Commission blamed the situation on sexism as she spoke to members of the European parliament yesterday.
“I am the first woman to be President of the European Commission. I am the president of the European Commission. And this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a Commission president, but I was not,” von der Leyen said.
“I cannot find any justification for the way I was treated in the European treaties. So, I have to conclude, it happened because I am a woman. Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie? In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any woman in these pictures, either," she added.
“Because this is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are. This goes to the values our Union stands for. And this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals,” she said.
An awkward moment over seating arrangements when EU leaders visited Turkey earlier this month stemmed from mistakes and miscommunication among the EU protocol staff, not from any gender issues from Turkey. Normally, the protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side. In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.
The seating arrangement debate that occurred following the visit of the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission to our country has no connection with being either European or a woman.
The Turkish side in the capital Ankara strictly met the requests of the top EU officials. So, no differentiation was made in the protocol arrangements based on the genders of the visiting officials – Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission, and EU Council chief Charles Michel.
As such, no one should question the hospitality and experience of Turkey, which has a deep-rooted tradition of diplomacy, in hosting delegations. Turkey is pleased that the Presidency of the EU Commission has been taken over by a woman for the first time and believes that this constitutes an important step in women's empowerment and equal rights.
Turkish President Erdogan has a close and friendly relation with Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen based on mutual trust and respect. During the top EU officials’ visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there was momentary confusion over where von der Leyen would sit.
Turkish officials have repeatedly said that they strictly followed protocol instructions from the EU side. Extensive reporting on the issue strongly suggests that miscommunication on the EU side – due in part to von der Leyen’s protocol team staying in Brussels due to the COVID-19 pandemic – was responsible for the confusion, and that Turkey played no part in the incident.