Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Tuesday with the European Union’s two presidents, but an awkward moment when the woman among them was left standing caused a bit of a diplomatic stir, The Washington Post reported.
A video of the leaders assembled in an ornate meeting room in Ankara showed Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel settling themselves into gilded chairs, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen appeared unsure of where she was expected to sit.
Von der Leyen stood staring at them, gestured with her right hand and appeared to say “um” or “ehm.”
She was ultimately offered a beige couch about 12 feet away, opposite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who occupies a lower-status rank in typical diplomatic protocol.
A member of the European Parliament, Dutch lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld, noted that at meetings between Erdogan and the prior pair of E.U. presidents, who were both men, the three leaders were seated next to one another, in equivalent chairs.
“It wasn’t a coincidence it was deliberate,” she wrote on Twitter, where some people explained away the incident as more about social distancing than protocol. “Why was @eucopresident silent?” she wrote, using Michel’s Twitter handle to ask why he didn’t offer his fancier seat to his counterpart.
Critics had already been taking aim at the visit, which came two weeks after Erdogan pulled Turkey out of an international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women known as the Istanbul Convention. Erdogan allies said the move didn’t mean women’s rights were being downgraded.