Blog AnalysisEU diplomacy

In Ankara, the 'sofagate', a mirror held up to European weaknesses

(B2) A "wounded" woman, the place of women "weakened"... Just like the image of the European Union, paralyzed at the idea of ​​upsetting the diplomatic order and uncomfortable in the defense of its values. Decidedly, the visit to Ankara of the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council is digested with difficulty. European parliamentarians echoed it again this Monday, April 26

Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen (on the photo) were present in front of the European Parliament which debated on the Sofagate (credit: European Parliament)

Michel's bad choice

« President Michel would never have left Juncker (the former President of the European Commission) on the sofa as he did with President von der Leyen. It happened because she is a woman. Sofagate is a clear case of discrimination against a woman ". The Spaniard's Sentence Ernest Urtasún (Greens/Catalonia in common) sums up the opinion of many MEPs who spoke yesterday (Monday 26.04).

Promise swear it's in the past

A few minutes earlier, at the desk at the bottom of the hemicycle, a few meters from Ursula von der Leyen seated in the place assigned to the President of the Commission, Charles Michel obviously wants to do a work of contrition, but with a " incident which he continues to refer to as " protocol ". " I realize that the images may have made many women feel offended ". He defends himself against any sexist attack and wants reaffirm " his " full full absolute commitment " at " support women, gender equality ". In the future, he even wants to believe that " the instructions given (to) protocol and diplomatic teams "will be enough to prevent such a " situation does not happen again ". He also promises European directives to advance the cause of women, in particular on equal pay. No MEP takes the ball back, as if the game had already ended.

But not for Ursula von der Leyen, a wounded woman

The President of the European Commission, she splits the armor. She surrenders. She felt " wounded, alone, as a woman and European ". His words are weighed. The clear tone. She intends once again to mark the blow of what she lived. She makes it a female fight: “  I am the first woman in the post of President of the European Commission, this is how I wanted to be treated two weeks ago (during the visit to Ankara editor's note), but that was not the case ". She insists and sweeps away all the formal arguments exposed since: “ there is no justification in the treaties, it happened because I am a woman. The outcome therefore only depends on an evolution of mentalities. Visibly, Ursula von der Leyen intends to use its position for this. And vis-à-vis Turkey, she wants to do " respect for women's rights "one of the prerequisites" when the conversation resumes  ». 

The (bad) European example

Charles Michel has all the more " disappointed that no one ultimately expected the Turkish president to do otherwise. Just as few are surprised by Ankara's decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, this legal framework, the first of its kind, put in place to combat violence against women. Symbol for symbol, the Turkish announcement coincided with the celebration of the 10th anniversary. But here again, as urged by Ursula von der Leyen, the EU must " to sweep in front of (one's) door ". For, more worryingly, some Member States are also considering the possibility of leaving the Istanbul Convention, this is not acceptable ". She warns, she also wants to place everyone before their own responsibilities. But she misses the opportunity to name them...

The symbol of a void?

The Parliament supports and revives. " It is right to attack Turkey for its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, but remember that only 21 states of the 27 EU members have ratified it, which undermines European credibility. The EU must be coherent internally to be credible externally retorts the Italian Fabio Massimo Castaldo (Unregistered/Movement 5 stars). This is the message shared with other parliamentarians. As a call to humility. And straighten the carriage of the head. The visit to Ankara is disputed both in form and in substance.

MEPs criticize this " message of weakness “, which made the funds of the visit to Ankara pass to the background of the news. " We wanted to send a message of strength, but it was that of weakness that passed castigates the leader of the popular right (EPP), the German Manfred weber (CSU). The arrows are stinging. Like that of the leader environmentalists, the German Ska Keller : " the Council continues to work on a mandate for the modernization of the customs union with Turkey! Without commitments on human rights! We help Erdogan where he is weakest, the economy! ". She attacks where it hurts: we should never have asked him to take care of the refugees, it's a geopolitical disaster that must be ended rather than continued ».  

Next challenge: regaining credibility

The formula of the President of the Security and Defense Subcommittee (SEDE), Nathalie Loiseau (Renaissance/Renew), summarizes the tone of these exchanges between parliamentarians and the European executive: “ Europe must ask itself a little less where it sits and a little more how it stays upright to be respected, in Ankara as in Moscow. ».

(Emmanuelle Stoesser)

Read also: The sofa strategy. Of power and brutality

Emmanuelle Stroesser

A journalist for magazines and the press, Emmanuelle specializes in humanitarian issues, development, asylum and migration and human rights.