Some people think that what is difficult to understand and manage is that the European Union has so many institutions, VIPs and high officials. There are those who complain in Brussels that as soon as the head of diplomacy, Josep Borrell, travels, as does the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, or one of its 26 commissioners. But when there is unanimity in a city with such a plurality of political groups, think tanks and of lobbies Of all kinds, it is in that the European Union came out damaged again from an international mission. And this time due to mistakes of his own: the Sofagate.
If a few months ago the High Representative, Josep Borrell, received harsh criticism for a press conference in which the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, expanded at ease, without him replying, before he expelled three diplomats from Russia from EU countries and underwent the scrutiny of the European Parliament while in the Kremlin they rubbed their hands, this time the one who set the trap has been Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And the top leaders of the EU have meekly fallen for it, who were elected to office in the summer of 2019 precisely for what they were not: great European political leaders.
In particular, the President of the European Council, the Belgian Walloon liberal Charles Michel; the man who quickly goes to an armchair because he knows that he is assigned to the astonished gaze of the president of the European Commission, who is incomprehensibly surprised by the macho protocol at the last minute designed by the Turkish president and to whom he had given the approval of the European Council without having gone through the protocol authorities of the Commission in Brussels because they did not travel to Ankara.
That is to say, a cluster of errors that ends with the image on the floor of a male president clinging to the chair while leaving the female president unmoved to go to the sofa, something he knew beforehand due to his colleague’s ignorance. And a European Union that transfers an image of lack of coordination and lack of professionalism abroad. At that point, Michel could have stood up and invited the president to sit down herself, or remain standing and request a second seat. But he chose to tie himself to the chair and remain silent.
“As you can see in the video, she was surprised”, explained the spokesman of the European Commission, Eric Mamer: “But she preferred to behave in accordance with the ways that citizens expect. The president should have sat as the president of the European Council and the Turkish President, but she decided to stay in the meeting and has asked her team to make sure that such an incident is not repeated in the future. But we also do not want to make a problem of this in public, which does not mean that is not important. She hopes that the institution she represents will be treated with the necessary protocol and steps will be taken so that this incident is not repeated in the future. The protocol team is not traveling with the leaders now due to COVID-19 and didn’t see the plan beforehand. “
Meanwhile, Erdogan, whom the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, defined as a lucky dictator, has managed not to talk about the absence of freedoms in his country or his abandonment of the Istanbul Convention, because the conversation in Brussels was focuses on the performance of its highest representatives.
This Monday, Michel, whom his cabinet defines as “head of state” while Von der Leyen is assigned the role of “prime minister” to justify the mess, has met for the first time with the president of the Community Executive since the trip to Turkey April 6. As he acknowledged on Thursday night on Belgian television, they had not spoken since then, which is a symptom of the great malaise between them. The atmosphere is really tense, and whoever crosses the street, this time, has been the President of the European Council, who has already received a proposal from the European Commission to prevent incidents like the one in Ankara from happening again. Incidents that, on the other hand, had never happened before when the president of the Community Executive was a man.
As published by Politico, Von der Leyen’s chief of staff, Björn Seibert, on Friday presented a five-point plan to his Council counterpart Frédéric Bernard, discussed at Thursday’s meeting, on how to improve cohabitation and how to prevent a third country from be the scene of the Brussels power games. The main point of the plan, according to Von der Leyen’s team, is a commitment by the institutions and leaders to look out for the interests of others with respect to the protocol of any third country in the future. In other words, they point out that what happened in Ankara, described by many as “humiliation” towards the president of the European Commission, was with the acquiescence of the European Council.
Thus, according to community sources, the president of the Commission “has made it clear [a Michel] that it will not allow a situation like this to happen again. “
And this Tuesday they have to give an account to the presidents of the parliamentary groups in the European Parliament for the image given. Michel has been calling some of them, which he has not done for almost a year, because he is aware that their reaction reduces possibilities for something that he yearns for: that his mandate does not remain in two and a half years, but that he exhausts five possible maximums.
But it has many angry people, and not only the political groups that, according to the president of the European Socialists in the European Parliament, have also summoned them to the plenary session, in the last week of April.
Collectives of women, such as the Fondation Millennia2025 Femmes et Innovation, they are collecting thousands of signatures for a letter directly asking Charles Michel to resign.
Von der Leyen expressed disapproval at the time, and could have remained standing or left the room, but preferred to take a seat on the sofa. Erdogan, “Meanwhile”, reads the letter from the Fondation Millennia2025, “the dictator observed how the EU transferred the image of internal conflict, lack of intelligence and reaction on the part of the president of its Council, at a time when the The question of Turkey’s entry into the EU is a serious and unresolved debate. “
This Sunday, according to the Turkish press, has expressed her opinion on what happened at a meeting of the women’s branch of the Union of International Democrats (UID), a Turkish non-governmental organization (NGO), in Istanbul: “Politicians who fail in foreign policy get trapped and they put their personal rivalries before their positions, and they try to camouflage their insufficiency by attacking me and the Muslims. ” Thus, according to Erdogan, Islamophobia has become one of the instruments used by Western politicians to cover up their failures.
“Of course, Michel at all times has avoided admitting his guilt and responsibility in the macho protocol of Erdogan, who on March 20 announced that his country was leaving the Istanbul Convention to prevent and combat all violence against women and violence domestic “, says the letter of the women’s collective:” By ostensibly assuming leadership as a man over a woman who is his political equal, he offers a reinforcement to the dictator on the policy he wants to impose on the women and girls of Turkey, 15 days after the authoritarian decision he made to violate gender equality, implicitly authorizing all violence against women and children in Turkey. ”
And they conclude: “Taking into account these three serious errors, it is obvious that a fragile apology will not solve the political vacuum that it has created for Europe before its citizens or before the world whose majority of press organs have echoed the incident. Therefore , we ask for your resignation from the post of President of the European Council. “
Another collective, the Board of Women Political Leaders (WPL), has released a note in which they affirm: “It is time to get rid of harmful stereotypes, to change the image of leadership roles that continues to focus on men, and to guarantee mutual respect and equality between men and women in the political and decision-making spheres “.
“We need male leaders to work as allies and agents of change to dismantle perceptions of prejudice, not to perpetuate them,” they add in the letter headed by the chairwoman of the WPL Board and former Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008 ), Helen Clark.
The WPL is the global network of women politicians, whose mission is to increase both the number and influence of women in leadership positions, as “it is estimated that it will take 145.5 years to achieve parity between men and women” in this terrain, they need.
The other seven members of the WPL Board and signatories of the letter are the president and founder of this organization, Silvana Koch-Mehrin; the former Vice President of the World Bank for the Africa region (2007-2012) Obiageli “Oby” Katryn Ezekwesili and the former President of Ecuador (1997) and Executive President of the FIDAL Foundation, Rosalía Arteaga.
The leadership is completed by the Vice President of Liberia, Jewel Howard-Taylor; the President of Eurochild and former President of Malta (2014-2019), Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca; the president of the Geneva Council for International Affairs and Development (GCIAD), Nurhayati Ali Assegaf; and the President of the Council of the Reykjavik World Forum, Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir.
“Women’s access to politics around the world is not only hampered by structural, socio-economic, institutional and cultural barriers, but those who have managed to break through the glass ceiling of politics may face more barriers once they occupy a high position “, emphasize the eight signatories.
Michel, who has not reacted until more than a day after the images of Erdogan’s macho protocol were disseminated, published a post on Facebook giving his version of events, without apologizing for occupying the only chair reserved for Erdogan’s guest instead of Von der Leyen, but claiming “sad” by the facts.
“I regret it for two reasons,” said Michel: “First, because of the impression that 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 saddened, because this situation it has overshadowed the important and beneficial geopolitical work we do together in Ankara, and from which I hope Europe will reap the rewards. “