Knives out for Ursula von der Leyen

  • EU leaders will meet next week to discuss who should take the union's top jobs

European Council chief Charles Michel is moving to ban Ursula von der Leyen from talks deciding whether she keeps her role as the president of the European Commission.

The two have been bitter rivals ever since 'sofagate', which saw von der Leyen being left without a chair at a meeting between Turkey and the European Union in 2021 to discuss women's rights. She had to sit down on a nearby sofa instead.

Now Michel has proposed to exclude von der Leyen from a meeting between EU leaders and heads of member states next week, in which they will discuss who should take the top jobs at the helm of the EU following the elections.

The European Council president said von der Leyen should be banned from attending the talks as she is hoping for a second term in office, the Telegraph reports.

While the commission's president is usually included in council talks, von der Leyen vying for a second stint in office makes the situation unprecedented as no other sitting commission president has attempted this in the past.

knives out for ursula von der leyen

European Council chief Charles Michel (pictured) is moving to ban Ursula von der Leyen from talks deciding whether she keeps her role as the president of the European Commission

knives out for ursula von der leyen

Now Michel has proposed to exclude von der Leyen (pictured) from a meeting between EU leaders and heads of member states next week, in which they will discuss who should take the top jobs at the helm of the EU following the elections last week

knives out for ursula von der leyen

Ursula von der Leyen was left irritated after being sidelined during talks between the EU and Turkey in Ankara in 2021 after her two male counterparts took the only available seats

But Michel is facing backlash over wanting to exclude von der Leyen.

'If he wants to eliminate her from the room, he should eliminate himself as well,' an EU diplomat told Politico. Another source added: 'There's some irritation.'

The latest twist in their rivalry comes after the 'sofagate' scandal in April 2021, when Turkey's president Erdogan and Michel took the two available chairs, while von der Leyen was left standing awkwardly, before taking a seat on a nearby sofa.

Turkey strongly rejected accusations that it snubbed von der Leyen because of her gender, while Michel blamed Turkey - despite the fact he did not appear to offer his colleague his seat either.

The incident took place in Ankara on April 6, 2021, as von der Leyen met with Erdogan, alongside her European colleague Michel.

Video showed how von der Leyen was left standing to one side and uttered an audible 'ahem' as Michel and Erdogan took the only two available seats - with neither offering her their chair even after she protested.

She was instead left to perch on a nearby sofa, positioned a distance from the two men, as they held the lengthy talks on Turkey's relations with the EU, including Erdogan's decision to withdraw from a treaty protecting women's rights.

The images drew intense criticism on social media and accusations of gender discrimination with a 'sofagate' hashtag trending.

It was quickly pointed out that in previous meetings in Turkey when both EU representatives were male, both were offered seats.

Ankara insisted that the EU's own protocol requests were applied during the meeting at the Turkish presidential palace.

knives out for ursula von der leyen

The two have been bitter rivals ever since 'sofagate', which saw von der Leyen being left without a chair at a meeting between Turkey and the European Union to discuss women's rights. Instead she had to sit down on a sofa

But Michel said that the embarrassment was the result of the 'strict interpretation' by Turkish services of protocol rules, and he regretted 'the differentiated, even diminished, treatment of the president of the European Commission'.

He said photographs of the meeting gave the impression that he was 'indifferent' to the situation.

'Nothing could be further from the truth, or from my deeply held feelings – or indeed from the principles of respect which I hold so dear,' he said.

'At the time, while realising the regrettable nature of the situation, we decided not to make matters worse by creating a scene.'

Michel stayed seated in the chair next to Erdogan for the full two-and-a-half hour meeting, while von der Leyen sat on the sofa.

Von der Leyen's spokesman said afterwards that Turkey had breached protocol by failing to offer her a chair, as it has done to other male commission presidents in the past, but that she decided to 'prioritize substance over protocol' by staying.

But, the spokesman added, 'let me stress that the president expects that the institution that she represents to be treated with the required protocol, and she has therefore asked her team to take all appropriate contacts in order to ensure that such an incident does not occur in the future.'

Von der Leyen later said in a speech that it 'happened because I'm a woman'.

Diplomatic protocol dictates that the EU commission president and council president, holding equal rank, should be seated in an equal manner.

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