EUROPEAN Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was visibly stunned after being left without a chair in a summit meeting with Turkey’s president.
Video footage picked up the awkward moment with the EU commission president reacting by holding out her arms in apparent exasperation and muttering “ermm?”.
Erdogan can be seen sitting in a gilded chair in front of Turkish and EU flags alongside European Council president Charles Michel — who is less powerful than the woman president.
But neither man stood to offer German Von Der Leyen — who has been blamed for the EU’s shambolic jabs roll-out — a seat as TV cameras captured the embarrassing spectacle.
His apparent slight came at the start of three hours of talks on issues including women’s rights.
Shunned Von der Leyen finally perched on a sofa apart from the pair who appeared oblivious to the excruciating snub.
The Turkish leader is said to be seething after Von Der Leyen’s attack earlier on his country’s withdrawal from a gender-based violence convention.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said “the president of the commission was clearly surprised,” insisting von der Leyen should have been treated “exactly in the same manner” as Michel.
The president of the commission was clearly surprised
Eric Mamer, European Commission spokesman
He said: “She does consider that these issues are important and need to be treated appropriately, which they clearly were not.”
The faux pas —quickly dubbed “sofagate” online — came at a delicate moment as the EU and Turkey look to rebuild ties despite concerns over Ankara’s record on rights, including discrimination against women.
Speaking after the meeting with the Turkish leader, von der Leyen stressed that “human rights issues are non-negotiable”.
She said: “I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention.
“This is about protecting women, and protecting children against violence, and this is clearly the wrong signal right now.”
Mr Mamer said that the problem surrounding von der Leyen’s seating during the meeting with Erdogan had “sharpened her focus on the issue”.
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The perceived slight to the first woman ever to occupy one of the EU’s top two roles raised hackles back in Brussels.
“First they withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and now they leave the President of European Commission without a seat in an official visit. Shameful. #WomensRights,” wrote Spanish European Parliament member Iratxe Garcia Perez.
German MEP Sergey Lagodinsky wrote of von der Leyen’s utterance that “‘Ehm’ is the new term for ‘that’s not how EU-Turkey relationship should be’.”
But not all the ire was directed at the Turkish side.
Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld was left questioning why Michel was “silent” as his female colleague was left without a seat.
There was no immediate comment from Michel’s spokesman or the Turkish presidency over the incident.