Not even a year ago sofa gate , that episode in which the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, did nothing in the face of the macho protocol of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. And the Belgian has done it again: this Thursday afternoon he was blocked by the rejection of the Ugandan foreign minister. General Jeje Odongo, at the greeting ceremony of the EU-African Union summit held in Brussels, passed by the President of the European Commission to directly greet the President of the European Council and the French President, Emmanuel Macron.
Jeje Odongo has barely glanced sideways at Von der Leyen, to then shake hands with Michel and Macron and, later, pose for the photo.
It was at that moment that Macron, current president of the EU Council, called the Ugandan’s attention to greet Von der Leyen, something he did but, yes, without shaking hands with her.
Jeje Odongo himself, on his Twitter account, published a photo of the meeting, in which Von der Leyen did not appear. What’s more, he didn’t even mention Von der Leyen in the text of his tweet. As if the president of the European Commission did not exist.
The Turkish background
It happened in April 2021. the sofagate it happened when the president of the European Council, the Belgian Walloon liberal Charles Michel; he rushes to an armchair because he knows that he is assigned to him before the astonished look of the president of the European Commission, who is surprised by him the macho protocol at the last minute designed by the Turkish president and to which the European Council had given its approval without having passed through the protocol authorities of the Commission in Brussels because they did not travel to Ankara.
At that point, Michel could have stood up and invited the president to sit down herself, or remained standing and requested a second seat. But she chose to tie herself to the chair and remain silent.
“It will not happen again”, Von der Leyen said then, visibly upset, in her appearance before the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament – the heads of the political groups: “I have felt hurt as a woman. I have felt alone as a woman and as president of the European Commission”. Meanwhile, Michel apologized “for the consequences that this situation has caused.”
“As you can see in the video, she was surprised,” explained the European Commission spokesman, Eric Mamer: “But she preferred to behave in accordance with the manners that citizens expect. The president should have sat as the president of the Council. European Parliament and the Turkish president, but she decided to stay in the meeting and has asked her team to make sure that such an incident does not happen again in the future. But we also do not want to make an issue of this in public, which does not mean that not important. She hopes that the institution she represents will be treated with the necessary protocol and measures will be taken so that this incident does not happen again in the future. The protocol team is not traveling with the leaders now due to COVID-19 and didn’t see the plan beforehand.”
In the meantime, Erdogan, whom the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, defined as a kind of dictator, managed not to talk about the absence of freedoms in his country or his abandonment of the Istanbul Convention, because the conversation in Brussels focuses on the performance of its highest representatives.
“I’m sorry for two reasons,” Michel said then: “First, because of the impression it gives that I have been indifferent to the clumsiness of the protocol in front of Ursula. Even more so when it is an honor for me to participate in this European project, of which two of the four main institutions are headed by women, Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde. And also proud that a woman, the first in history, succeeded me as Prime Minister of Belgium. Lastly, I am sad, because this situation has overshadowed the important and beneficial geopolitical work that we carried out together in Ankara, and from which I hope Europe will reap the rewards”.
This Thursday afternoon, however, Michel has returned to convey that “impression of indifference” that he conveyed less than a year ago in Ankara.