Von der Leyen sidelined in awkward snub as Charles Michel pinches chair at Turkey meeting

Ursula von der Leyen suffered an embarrassing gaffe as her seat next to Turkey’s President Erdogan was nabbed by Charles Michel as she stood there waiting for him to move with no luck. Ms Von der Leyen voiced her annoyance which was not picked up by Mr Michel as the pair arrived in Turkey to discuss the future of the refugee agreement. But the European Commission president was then confined to a distant sofa as the press took photos of Mr Michel and Mr Erdogan with a visibly disgruntled Ms Von der Leyen looking on. 

Ms Von der Leyen was joined by Mr Michel to discuss the future of the refugee agreement with Turkey after arriving in the country on Tuesday. 

An agreement was put in place in 2016 to curb the number of illegal immigrants entering Europe via Turkey. 

EU member states would resettle a Syrian refugee for every illegal refugee sent back to Turkey from places like Greece. 

The move was also seen to slow down the rising far-right support in Europe who were growing disgruntled over the influx of unchecked refugees.  

The EU also provided £2.58billion of funding to Turkey to help with the migrant crisis and for the country to act as the “gatekeeper” to Europe. 

Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel will also discuss how to deescalate tensions between Turkey and Greece over territorial disputes and energy resources. 

Ahead of the meeting, the European Commission President said that commitments to human rights were key to a working relationship with the EU. 

The comments were in response to Turkey’s withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention which focuses on domestic violence against women. 

The talks lasted three hours with Mr Michel telling the local press shortly after: “The rule of law and respect of fundamental rights are core values of the European Union and we shared with President Erdogan our deep worries on the latest developments with Turkey in this respect.”

Ms Von der Leyen also commented on the issue of human rights after the meeting. 

She said: “Human rights issues are non-negotiable, they have absolute priority… we were very clear on that. 

“I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, this is about protecting women and protecting children against violence and this is clearly the wrong signal right now.”

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