ANKARA – The Turkish government again rejected the accusation that it snubbed the head of the European Union's executive arm because she is a woman, insisting Wednesday that internal EU squabbling was to blame for a protocol gaffe during a meeting with Turkey's president.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said Ankara was pleased the European Commission had a woman at the helm and called on EU institutions to reach a “consensus” among themselves to avoid similar lapses in protocol in the future.
Ursula von der Leyen, the EU commission's president, and European Council President Charles Michel traveled to Turkey this month to discuss the troubled relationship between the 27-nation bloc and Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Michel and Erdogan took the only two chairs placed in front of the EU and Turkish flags, leaving von der Leyen to sit on a large sofa away from the men.
In an address to the European Parliament on Monday, von der Leyen said she believes she was treated disrespectfully simply because of her gender.
“I felt hurt, and I felt alone, as a woman, and as a European. Because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are," von der Leyen said in the speech. "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, always and everywhere.”
Turkey has insisted the EU’s own protocol requests were applied. The European Council's head of protocol said his team did not have access during a preparatory inspection to the room where the seating incident happened.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic denied in an emailed statement Wednesday that von der Leyen was slighted because of her gender, stating that “Turkey does not apply separate protocol arrangements according to the gender of the person holding office.”
“Turkey is pleased that for the first time ever, the presidency of the EU Commission was taken over by a woman and believes that this constitutes an important step toward women’s empowerment and equal rights,” Bilgic said.
He added: “It is regrettable that this event, which originates from internal EU political fights,...is still being used as material for political debates and is being associated with gender discrimination.”