EU Leader Talks About Chair Snub Caught on Video

Ursula von der Leyen says Turkey left her standing at meeting because she's a woman
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2021 2:59 PM CDT
EU Leader Sees Sexism in Seating Snub
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, and EU Council President Charles Michel arrive for a joint news conference after talks with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 6 in Ankara.   (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkey, the European Council, and her EU colleague have tried to explain why there was no chair for Ursula von der Leyen at a meeting earlier this month. And von der Leyen looked into the matter herself, examining government documents, but could find no justification for officials at Turkey's presidential palace leaving the president of the European Commission standing. "So, I have to conclude, it happened because I am a woman," she told the European Parliament on Monday. It was the first time von der Leyen, the only woman so far to head up the commission, has addressed the snub, the New York Times reports. She suggested the situation might have been different if she'd been wearing a suit and tie. "In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs," she said. "But then again, I did not see any woman in these pictures, either."

Von der Leyen eventually was directed to a sofa, a step down in diplomatic protocol, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, took their places in chairs at the front of the room. She's the head of the EU's executive branch, and in earlier meetings, Erdogan and EU leaders were given equal seating, per the Washington Post. Video showing her frustration and capturing her "um" when she arrived went viral. Turkey said von der Leyen's gender wasn't the reason she wasn't given a chair, and Michel said he should've handled the situation differently but didn't want to cause a diplomatic flap. "I felt hurt and left alone: as a woman and as a European," von der Leyen told Parliament. She pointed out that her mistreatment only came to light because there were cameras at the meeting. "Thousands of similar incidents, most of them far more serious, go unobserved," she said. (More Ursula von der Leyen stories.)

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