Italy’s PM brands Turkish president a ‘dictator’ as diplomatic row over chairs at meeting worsens

Turkey has rejected claims it snubbed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen because she is a woman.

Footage went viral showing Ms von der Leyen being forced to stand while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel sat down, as only two chairs were laid out for the three leaders.

And the war of words with Europe has continued after Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi labelled Mr Erdogan a “dictator”.

Two chairs for three leaders... (L-R Charles Michel, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ursula von der Leyen)
The two chairs laid out for the three politicians

Footage from earlier this week showed a perplexed Ms Von der Leyen as the Turkish leader and Mr Michel took their seats in front of their flags.

She was eventually seated on a sofa a little further away from her counterparts and opposite Turkey’s foreign minister, who is below her in the protocol pecking order.

The Italian PM has said President Erdogan “humiliated” Ms von der Leyen.

Turkey is saying that they only provided two chairs because that is what EU protocols stipulated.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had come under “extremely unfair” criticism.

“Turkey is a deep-rooted state and this is not the first time that it has hosted a visitor,” Mr Cavusoglu said.

He added: “The protocol applied during its (international) meetings is in line with international protocol rules as well as the world-renowned Turkish hospitality traditions.”

Mario Draghi following his meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella
Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, called Erdogan a ‘dictator’

Dominique Marro, the EU’s head of protocol, said that if the room had been seen ahead of time they would have asked for another seat.

Mr Marro added that the incident might have been prompted by the hierarchy of European leaders established by the EU treaty.

He said: “In general, the protocol for third countries makes a clear distinction between the status of head of state, held by the president of the European Council, and the status of prime minister, held by the president of the commission.”

Mr Draghi, the Italian prime minister, said: “I absolutely do not agree with Erdogan’s behaviour towards President von der Leyen. I think it was not appropriate behaviour and I was very sorry for the humiliation von der Leyen had to suffer.

“With these, let’s call them what they are – dictators – with whom one nonetheless has to coordinate, one has to be frank when expressing different visions and opinions.”

Turkey has summoned the Italian ambassador to the country, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

Mr Cavusoglu said: “We strongly condemn the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president.”