European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was taken aback to find her fellow top European Union official taking the only chair available next to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when the duo visited Ankara this week. Yet, Turkish sources stated that the EU side was responsible for the incident.
Saying that EU protocol was responsible, sources told Daily Sabah that this seating arrangement was suggested by the EU side prior to the meeting.
Turkey welcomed both EU officials courteously and adhered to international protocol.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during a press conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah also touched upon the issue.
“There are unfair accusations toward Turkey. Turkey is a deep-rooted state and is not hosting guests for the first time. The protocol applied in meetings in Turkey is the international protocol and has been carried out within the framework of worldwide known Turkish hospitality,” he stated.
“The EU side’s demands were fulfilled. This means that the seating arrangement was made according to their suggestions. Our protocol units came together previously and their demands were realized,” Çavuşoğlu added further.
Social media users were however quick to blame Turkey after footage from their meeting on Tuesday showed the first female head of the EU executive, the only woman in the talks, gesturing in disbelief and uttering a surprised sigh as European Council President Charles Michel took one of the two center-stage seats prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa, while others saw the incident as a demonstration of an underlying rivalry within the EU.
“The few images that were shown gave the impression that I would have been insensitive to this situation,” Michel wrote on Facebook late Wednesday.
“I am therefore sorry for two reasons. First, by the impression given that I would have been indifferent to the protocol awkwardness vis-a-vis Ursula. Finally, I am saddened, because this situation has overshadowed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we carried out together in Ankara, and of which I hope that Europe will reap the fruits,” he added.
The EU and Turkey aimed to set a positive agenda at the center of the meeting.
Michel said they had a frank discussion with Erdoğan on the future of EU-Turkey relations, while von der Leyen said the meeting aimed to give ties “new momentum.”
Years of disagreements over a growing list of issues threatened to boil over last summer when Turkey sent navy ships to support an energy exploration mission in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Both the EU and Turkey had voiced their intentions to set a positive agenda. Turkey recently reiterated that it is part of Europe and sees its future in the EU while it eyes normalization with the bloc, adding that it will continue to work toward full membership. Turkish officials have also said that they hope for progress in 2021 and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end.
The bloc has been encouraged by Turkey resuming talks and restarting peace efforts with Greece over a disputed maritime border and the divided island Cyprus.
During the latest summit of EU leaders on March 25-26, the bloc expressed that it is ready to boost cooperation with Turkey if the "current de-escalation is sustained.”
Turkey has underlined that it wants to push forward from the "positive" talks and has called for "concrete action" – particularly when it comes to migration.
Apart from further cooperation on migration and updating the March 18 statement, Ankara expects the modernization of the 1995 customs union and greater emphasis on Turkey's candidacy to become an EU member.
The meeting between Erdoğan and the two EU leaders aimed to provide a framework for future relations, though no concrete outcome was seen. During the meeting, the EU pledged to further support Turkey in the case of migration and enhance economic ties with the country.
Regarding cooperation on migration, von der Leyen stated, "We will continue to support refugees and host communities." Von der Leyen added that the European Commission will soon make a proposal that reflects support for refugees in Turkey.
Ankara's adherence to the 2016 migrant agreement would be a "major show of goodwill," the commission head stated further.
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