A Chair For Two

Have you heard of “#SofaGate”?

In this article, we will see together what “Sofagate” is and, most importantly, analyze its potential meaning and consequences for the EU-Turkey relations, which have been tense for years, especially because of the migration crisis and the recent Turkey’s drive for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.

What is "SofaGate"

Last Tuesday, the 6th of April, a meeting between the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of the European Council Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen took place at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey.

This meeting was the result of a “meticulous preparation and diplomatic effort” (as said by Mr. Michel himself) and meant to ease the relations between Turkey and the European Union for future cooperation between the two.

In the room where the meeting was supposed to take place, right before its beginning, this scenario was presented to its honorable participants: two chairs and three of them, and this is not the start of a joke.

At this point, one of the infamous chairs, the one in front of the Turkish flag, was of course occupied by the Turkish President Mr. Erdogan and the other one in front of the European Union flag was left for either two of the others. The European Council President Mr. Michel, quite abruptly, took it, leaving a clearly surprised and embarrassed European Commission President Mrs. von der Leyen standing without a chair close to them. To not make a scene over the form and concentrate on the substance, Mrs. von der Leyen, with an “Ehm” and a slight gesture with her arms, which contained all her astonishment in this situation, had to take a seat on a nearby sofa in front of another where the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister was sitting, thus resulting sidelined with respect to Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Michel.

A video of the whole scene was made and it soon became viral online, raising questions and criticism against Turkey’s treatment of the European Commission President Mrs. von der Leyen and against the European Council President Mr. Michel, who apparently took the infamous seat without giving a lot of thought. The hashtags “#GiveHerASeat” and “#SofaGate” then emerged on the internet.

After the event, the European Commission played down what happened and the Commission spokesperson, Mr. Eric Mamer, just declared that the Commission President von der Leyen expects the institution which she represents to be treated by all with the required and appropriate protocol to avoid in the future situations as the one described above.

But Turkey has now laid the blame on the EU for “unjust accusations” and the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Cavusoglu declared that the protocol actually met the demands of the EU side.

However, Mr. Michel said he was saddened by any suggestion that he may have been indifferent to the protocol misstep against Mrs. Von der Leyen.