Politics

‘Twenty years of EU failures!’ Von der Leyen’s ‘serious error’ challenged by Italian MEP

Turkey: Von Der Leyen 'could have been set up' says expert

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The Commission President vowed on Monday to fight for women’s rights after she was denied a chair during a meeting in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago.

Speaking to the European Parliament, a visibly angry von der Leyen said the April 6 episode – where she was relegated to an adjacent sofa while President Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel sat in prepared chairs – showed disdain for female politicians.

She said: “I cannot find any justification for how I was treated …so I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman.”

But Mr Zanni argued the episode showed much more than disrespect for the first female Commission President.

The Italian MEP claimed it was the result of 20 years of “failures” from the EU.

He said: “Today we wanted to talk about the steps forward in the rebalancing of EU-Turkey relations, but we acknowledge that the operation was unsuccessful.

“Solidarity with President Von der Leyen, the protagonist of one of the worst pages in our diplomatic history.

“That scene confirmed what we already knew about Erdogan and gave the world the image of a paralysed EU, unable to act promptly when circumstances require it.

“Continuing to give confidence and resources to an authoritarian regime on issues such as customs union and migrant management is the result of a serious error of assessment by Brussels.

“The Sofagate is not an unpleasant isolated episode, but the result of twenty years of failures of EU policies with Turkey.

“In recent months, Ursula Von der Leyen has focused her attention on the rule of law, censoring democratically elected leaders of countries such as Poland and Hungary: the same vigour has not been shown towards those who violently silence political opponents and ethnic minorities, erecting themselves as a bulwark of a very dangerous Islamic fanaticism.

“The respect that we have not demanded of Turkey in all these years, the inconsistency that we have made into a dogma, have made Europe’s very credibility questionable.

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“And not only in the eyes of illiberal regimes but of the whole world.

“The EU should not be afraid. When it decides to abandon the path of impossible compromises to take that of common sense, it will find us by its side.”

Video footage on April 6 during the Ankara visit showed von der Leyen clearly taken aback when the two men sat on the only two chairs prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa.

In a clear swipe at Charles Michel, Ms von der Leyen told MEPs: “I felt hurt, and I felt alone as a woman and as a European.

“I am the president of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey (…) but I was not.

“This shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals – always and everywhere.”

Speaking to parliament, Mr Michel again expressed his regret over the situation, which he said he understood offended many women.

He also told MEPs that deeper economic ties with Turkey were difficult because of a deterioration of basic rights and freedoms in Turkey, including those of women.

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