Brussels, 8 April 2021

Note for the attention of Charles Michel

President of the Council

Subject: “Sofagate”

We would like to inform you that the staff of all the institutions fully share the outraged reactions, from all sides, widely relayed by the press regarding what has now become the “Sofagate”.

It is simply intolerable and scandalous to discover on social media and in the media, images of a scene belonging to another century where women were inferior to men. You and our President were invited to a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. However, only two chairs were provided, one of which was occupied by the Turkish President, and you did not hesitate to sit on the second chair while President von der Leyen was relegated to the sofa!

The European Union has established a policy of equal treatment of women and men in the Member States, denouncing all sexist acts and promoting diversity and inclusion. How do you explain these policies when your actions do not follow? 

On the one hand, we would like to express our solidarity with our President for the absolutely humiliating and unjustified treatment she has received.

On the other hand, if it is already absolutely unacceptable and unworthy of the most dilapidated of protocols that our President was forgotten in the distribution of seats, it is even more astounding that you did not have the sensitivity not to lend yourself to this protocol masquerade of bad taste, demonstrating neither institutional solidarity nor simple gallantry, by rushing to occupy the only available chair, leaving our President standing, helpless but dignified !

So, if, as the press has rightly pointed out, although President Erdoğan may have instigated this diplomatic affront, you have no excuse for not being cautious.

Moreover, this is not just about the subtleties of protocol or a storm of “diplomatic sofas”.

Suffice it to recall that the deliberately humiliating treatment of our President comes just weeks after the EU condemned Turkey for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an international human rights treaty aimed at preventing violence against women.

If the EU is serious about demanding that Turkey respects women’s rights, no one, least of all the Council President, can be complicit in the humiliation of the woman who became the first President of the European Commission.

Protocol, politics and policies are not separable, as every diplomat knows “protocol is politics”, sometimes even the most subtle. 

In such a situation, we would have expected that your first reaction would have been to apologise to our President and to all the outraged European citizens.

On the contrary, the positions taken by your entourage and your press release trying to justify what is clearly unjustifiable have only made the situation worse.

How can you claim to appeal to the rules of protocol when the press directly published photos of the visit to Ankara on 16 November 2015 of former Presidents Tusk and Junker, both sitting comfortably in their own chairs, alongside President Erdoğan?

How dare you cross the final frontier of ridicule by claiming, in the face of a protocol disaster of such magnitude, that this visit was “the result of meticulous preparation and diplomatic work carried out over many months”?

Of course, ridicule does not kill, but it does make one uncomfortable!

We are pleased to learn that an enquiry will be opened to determine how this diplomatic incident could have occurred, in order to verify what the failures in the preparation were, the lack of attention to procedure and protocol and above all to avoid that such an accident to happen again.

This internal investigation is all the more urgent as the Turkish Foreign Minister has just declared to the press that during this visit the protocol proposed by the European institutions was scrupulously respected.

Nevertheless, whatever conclusions and consequences drawn from it; nothing will erase the seriousness of the insult inflicted on our President and de facto on all women. 

You have said that you are “saddened because this situation has overshadowed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we have done together in Ankara and from which I hope Europe will reap the benefits”.

We regret to inform you that the only result of this “situation” that has made the world’s headlines is the widespread feeling of “shame” as the EPP group in the EP has rightly pointed out.

Undoubtedly, this black page will remain forever in the annals and minds of everyone!

Cristiano Sebastiani,


Copies :

Ms U. von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Mr D. Sassoli, President of the European Parliament

Mr N. Meyer-Landrut, Head of the Delegation in Turkey

The staff of the Institutions