The day after Turkey's President Erdogan arrested ten admirals on fears of new coup rumblings over their signing a 'treasonous' letter, a high level EU 'reconciliation' meeting with Turkey didn't go so well on Tuesday. The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met with Erdogan in a controversial official visit in which the pair vowed to convey that human rights are "non-negotiable".
While there were the usual pleasantries and press statements before and after which Turkish media hyped as "positive" - it was the deeply awkward snub upon the start of the meeting that left Ursula von der Leyen speechless and more than anything else conveys the true state of Turkey-EU relations...
Well, almost speechless given she let out a disapproving and confusted Ehmmm while momentarily lingering to see if she'd be offered the seat. It's unclear if her obvious annoyance was directed more at Erdogan or Michel - who after all was the one who rushed to grab the only chair.
Unfazed, Michel took the seat immediately to Erdogan's right with von der Leyen left confined to a distant couch and ultimately sidelined in the conversation (or so we can presume).
The visibly disgruntled European Commission president was also largely left out of the photo op that followed as it was only Michel and Erdogan seated in front of the EU and Turkey flags.
A number of pundits speculated that it was a patriarchal move to denigrate women by Islamically conservative Erdogan, while defenders of Erdogan claimed the awkward protocol (of merely two chairs) was all about social distancing during the pandemic.
The official European Commission press clip issued later in the day conveniently edited out the snub, with von der Leyen later calling it an "interesting" meeting with Erdogan.
Three people, two chairs, one snub...
They reportedly discussed the future of EU-Turkey relations, the migrant crisis, and controversial foreign policy decisions by Anakara - particularly sending weapons and mercenaries to Libya.
The European officials had expressed the meeting aimed to give bilateral EU-Turkey relations a "new momentum" after relations sunk to new lows in 2020.
However, the top EU officials came under fire by rights activists for going through with the meeting a mere day after the latest military arrests, and given Erdogan has shown no signs of changing course on a range of issues from violations of Greek and Cypriot maritime territory, to crackdowns on opposition leaders and journalists, to periodic internet censorship.