EU’s Michel promises to improve seating arrangements after Sofagate

European Council President Charles Michel introduced a plan to improve seating arrangements for joint foreign visits by the heads of the council and European Commission, Politico reported on Tuesday.

Michael outlined the written plan, which also gives equal speaking slots to commission president Ursula von der Leyen, at the European Parliament on Tuesday. On Monday, the two leaders convened for their first face to face meeting since last week’s “Sofagate” scandal in Turkey’s capital Ankara, Politico said.

Von der Leyen was left standing without a chair at a top-level EU meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week. Erdoğan and Michel settled into two gilded Ottoman-style chairs flanked by EU and Turkish flags at the presidential palace in Ankara.

After an awkward moment of silence, von der Leyen, the first female president of the European Commission, sat on a beige sofa four metres away. The incident stirred criticism of women's rights in Turkey under Erdoğan and of Michel, who remained seated during the incident.

The document named “Common understanding regarding bilateral summits in which both Presidents participate”, will ensure that both presidents of the European bloc are treated in a dignified manner, while respecting the protocol order, Politico said.

The plan promotes the “division of labour in terms of speaking slots to be coordinated and agreed beforehand” and calls on the protocol departments of the institutions “to be involved in preparation of meetings, including in joint advance teams”, Politico said, citing the wording of the text.

Michel proposed the new guidelines after Björn Seibert, the head of von der Leyen’s cabinet, called for the clarification of EU treaty rules on the ranking of institutions and for the encouragement of equal representation during foreign visits.

Michel apologised several times for his behaviour during Monday’s meeting, Politico said, citing parliament officials in the room.

Von der Leyen told MEPs that the incident was “most awkward and unfortunate”.

“You can imagine my feelings when I saw there was no chair for me,” she said, according to Politico.