Charles Michel: My deep-seated regrets about Sofa-Gate
After the roaring success of last week's statement put out on Facebook, the EU council president has decided to deliver a follow-up to make things even better. Here it is in full:
"Last Tuesday, I undertook an EU mission to improve women’s rights in Turkey with my best friend in Brussels Ursula von der Leyen right beside me, give or take half the room.
Sadly some rogue footage has emerged suggesting there was a disagreement about seating arrangements during our sit-down with Turkey’s definite non-dictator Recep Typo Erdoğan, so I felt I needed to couch this unfortunate misunderstanding in some context.
When we entered the meeting room, it became apparent that there was a less than ideal number of chairs. I had not been briefed but I assumed what any reasonable person would and decided this was a typically Turkish version of musical chairs. Keen not to cause a diplomatic stand-off, I sat down.
It was only when my best friend Ursula said “ähm” that I realized something was wrong. But of course — eager to follow the gender equality protocol set by the Turkish authorities — I ignored her.
I was nonetheless, completely attuned to the seriousness of Ursula’s ähm-chair exhalation. But we both decided it would be unwise to be distracted by the unrelated issue of gender equality while we tried to encourage Turkey to treat women more fairly.
After the meeting I was so angry about what had happened that I could barely speak, and in fact said nothing, for several days.
Personal attacks against me are therefore unacceptable. If I hadn’t taken this job as European Council President away from a woman, then a woman couldn’t have become Belgian Prime Minister only to be replaced by another man when the actual government was formed. So there.
I also want to address concerns that this has damaged relations in our Union. On the contrary, the EU-Turkey customs union is going from strength to strength. But the suggestion from Ursula’s spokesperson that we should rename the Istanbul Convention the “I Stand By” Convention in my honor, is a tad too far. The EU has at its foundation a deep respect for equality of chairs, and women.
Let’s face it, Ursula’s not pregnant, and I’d had a long day, and frankly wouldn’t be complaining right now if I’d been given a luxurious sofa to lounge on.
But all in all, I would like to say directly to Ursula: I am sorry … I am sorry that this trifling matter overshadowed the massive diplomatic failure we achieved in Ankara.
And my chair wasn’t actually that comfortable anyway."