A diplomatic spat has erupted between Turkey and Italy, after prime minister Mario Draghi accused president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of humiliating European commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and described him as a “dictator”.
Von der Leyen – the commission’s first female president – was left without a chair during a meeting on Tuesday with Erdoğan and the European council president Charles Michel met Erdoğan. The commission chief was clearly taken aback when the two men sat on the only two chairs prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa.
On Thursday Draghi told reporters: “I absolutely do not agree with Erdoğan’s behavior towards president Von der Leyen … I think it was not appropriate behavior and I was very sorry for the humiliation Von der Leyen had to suffer.”
Hy het bygevoeg: “With these, let’s call them what they are – dictators – with whom one nonetheless has to coordinate, one has to be frank when expressing different visions and opinions.”
Soon after, the Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, and foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu slammed the remarks.
“We strongly condemn the appointed Italian prime minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president,” Çavuşoğlu wrote on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Çavuşoğlu said that the seating at the meeting was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands and international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations“.
Turkey has insisted that the EU’s own protocol requests were applied but the EU Council head of protocol said his team did not have access, during their preparatory inspection, to the room where the incident happened.
“If the room for the tete-a-tete had been visited, we should have suggested to our hosts that, as a courtesy, they replace the sofa with two armchairs for the president of the commission,” Dominique Marro wrote in a note made public by the EU Council. He added that the incident might have been prompted by the order of protocol established by the EU treaty.
The incident came only weeks after Erdoğan pulled Turkey out of a key European convention aimed at combatting violence against women. The move was a blow to Turkey’s women’s rights movement, which says domestic violence and murders of women are on the rise.
During her visit to Ankara, Von der Leyen called for Erdoğan to reverse his decision to withdraw from the Istanbul convention – named after the Turkish city where it was signed in 2011.