EU embarrassment: Charles Michel told resign as ‘apology not enough’ in new petition

Charles Michel appears to take Von der Leyen's chair

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The Council chief is reportedly suffering from bad nights due to his embarrassment over a seating arrangement incident at a meeting in Ankara last week. Ursula Von der Leyen, the first female President of the European Commission, expressed surprise and raised a hand in disbelief when she found Mr Michel had taken the only chair available next to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the talks.

In the episode, caught on camera, she ended up being relegated to a sofa, further away.

Mr Michel told German newspaper Handelsblatt: “I make no secret of the fact that I haven’t slept well at night since because the scenes keep replaying in my head.”

He added that if it were possible he would go back and fix it.

But a petition calling for his resignation over the diplomatic mishap is now gathering momentum.

Addressed directly to Mr Michel, it reads: “During your meeting with the Turkish President, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Ankara on April 6, you made several serious mistakes that a pitiful apology cannot erase.

“We must move forward to resolve them and build their solution.”

It adds: “By ostensibly taking leadership as a man over a woman who is your political equal, you offer reinforcement to the dictator on the crush he wants to impose to women and girls of Turkey, fifteen days after the authoritarian decision he took to violate gender equality, implicitly authorising all violence against women and children in Turkey.

“Do you realise it?”

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister who was seated opposite Ms von der Leyen on a different couch, said the seating arrangement was in line with international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations”.

He said: “Turkey is a deep-rooted state, it is not the first time it hosts a guest.

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“The protocol followed for meetings in Turkey is within the international protocol framework.

“The same was done here too.

“The protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side. In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.”

In the past, three chairs were provided when Erdogan visited Brussels for talks with the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, which collectively represents the EU’s 27 member states.

Ties between Brussels and Ankara have been strained since a failed coup in 2016 prompted a crackdown in Turkey that has led to the arrests of thousands.

A maritime row between Turkey and Greece stoked tensions last year and the EU threatened sanctions on Ankara, but they are now testing a cautious rapprochement.

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