‘Sofagate’: MEPs issue condemnation of Erdoğan’s disrespect and inaction from Michel

MEPs have condemned President Erdoğan’s disrespect and President Michel’s inaction as “a blatant sign of how far we still have to go to finally achieve gender equality and respect for all

Seconds before Sofagate: Charles Michel, Reccep Erdogan, and Ursula von der Leyen
Seconds before Sofagate: Charles Michel, Reccep Erdogan, and Ursula von der Leyen

Members of the European Parliament were uncompromising in statements of condemnation of the Turkish government’s affront towards Ursula von der Leyen, who was denied a seat by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and European Council president Charles Michel. 

An attempt to repair tense EU-Turkey relations turned into a diplomatic spat now dubbed ‘sofagate’, when Europe’s first female president of the European Commission was left standing because of a lack of chairs in Ankara. 

Reacting with an audible “ahem”, it left both Michel and Erdoğan looking tone-deaf, with both sides accusing each other of being inflexible on diplomatic protocol. Turkey claimed their protocol met EU demands, but Michel said it was Turkey that had adhered to a strict interpretation of protocol.

But MEPs from the European Parliament bureau and coordinators of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) are expressing their support towards Von der Leyen. 

FEMM chair Evelyn Regner (S&D) pointed out that “this disrespect goes beyond the person and institution. It shows again how much more has to be done to support women in leadership with binding measures like Women on Boards, but also by addressing existing social disrespect and hurdles, as was blatantly shown in Turkey yesterday.” 

The FEMM session ended with a condemnation of President Erdoğan’s disrespect and President Michel’s inaction as “a blatant sign of how far we still have to go to finally achieve gender equality and respect for all,” Regner said. 

“We stand with Commission President von der Leyen and with all the women, in Turkey and in the European Union, who are directly affected by the prevalence of such disregard, and who face not only violence but also obstacles of all kinds on a daily basis. We will continue to work together to eliminate these phenomena and we will always show solidarity with those affected - be it a Commission President or one of the many underpaid female heroes of the pandemic.” 

The Left’s MEP and FEMM first Vice-Chair Eugenia Rodríguez Palop said Sofagate was a picture worth a thousand words. “Well, the contempt shown towards President Ursula von der Leyen, who was left without a seat, is illustrative of the backlash against women's rights in Turkey.” 

FEMM’s 3rd Vice-Chair Elissavet Vozemberg (EPP) called out Erdoğan’s “unacceptable and disparaging behaviour” towards the President of the European Commission and said it was an unprecedented diplomatic infelicity, “utter indecency and contempt for the highest European institution.” 

“The Turkish President consciously insulted the EU. as well as European values. This extremely offensive and uncivilized action exceeds all limits of tolerance and calls for a strict reaction by the EU,” she said. 

FEMM’s 4th Vice-Chair Robert Biedroń (S&D) criticised the faux-pas as evidence of Erdoğan's complete obliviousness towards gender equality and diplomatic protocol. “It could be a political statement, since one of the points on the agenda was Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention against gender-based violence". 

The Coordinators of the European Parliament political groups also reacted in no uncertain terms. Frances Fitzgerald (EPP) said the incident was redoleny of everyday sexism. “We must always remain vigilant and ensure that women have a seat where they belong: at the table. Anything less than that is not worthy of our European values." 

Maria Noichl (S&D) also said there was esponsibility on Charles Michel’s side. “The behaviour of Erdoğan is despicable but it is not in our hands. However, I expect more from our President of the European Council. He could have joined President von der Leyen immediately on the sofa instead of taking his seat without any comments. Democrats should stand by other democrats when they are being challenged. Such a display of courage would have been good for all of us." 

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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