Miscommunication on the EU side – not the Turkish side – led to an awkward moment during a visit to Turkey earlier this week by two key EU leaders, the Politico website reported Friday.
An EU Council team bypassed a team from the local EU Delegation office that was expected to work on seating arrangements on behalf of the EU Commission, said Politico.
During the Tuesday meeting in the Turkish capital Ankara, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, one of the two visiting EU leaders, was briefly left standing before she took a seat on a sofa.
The incident got considerable media attention, and Turkish officials made clear afterward that they had prepared seating arrangements in line with the wishes of EU protocol teams.
According to Politico’s account based on interviews with EU diplomats, which covered the meeting between von der Leyen, EU Council President Charles Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Michel's team took control of protocol preparations.
Von der Leyen's protocol team did not travel to Ankara due to the coronavirus pandemic, while Michel’s team was in the capital for preparations with Turkish officials ahead of the meeting, said Politico.
EU Commission spokespersons said earlier that since von der Leyen's protocol team did not come to Ankara, preparatory tasks fell to a team from the EU Delegation to Turkey, meaning the bloc's local representation in the capital.
But according to Politico, an EU diplomat said the delegation was excluded during protocol and seating arrangements.
Michel's team in direct contact with Turkish side
"We have insisted with the Turkish side that the Delegation should be the only contact point for all communication and were always clear in our communication to them about the need for equal treatment of both presidents and their delegations," Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the head of the EU Delegation to Turkey, said in a note to Brussels on Tuesday, presumably after the incident, according to Politico.
Stressing that the EU Council sent a team including a protocol officer beforehand, Meyer-Landrut wrote that an officer instead directly contacted the Turkish protocol team, which made effective communication and coordination with the Turkish side difficult.
There was some criticism of the seating arrangement at the meeting, where Erdogan and Michel sat in separate chairs while von der Leyen was left standing.
Von der Leyen was later offered a seat on a couch, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sitting on a couch opposite her.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Cavusoglu downplayed the incident, saying Turkey had satisfied all protocol requests from the EU side.
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