Getting what he wanted after the European Union backed down on the idea of sanctions for provocations around Greek islands, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has squeezed the bloc’s leaders for more money, ostensibly to stop refugees and migrants from going to Greece and its islands.
The British newspaper The Telegraph said that Erdogan, after refusing a chair to visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, was offered an unreported sum although he was seeking 3 billion euros ($3.57 billion.)
That was the amount held back from a 6-billion euro ($7.14 billion) pledge from the EU, along with visa-free travel for Turks and a faster track entry into the bloc, withheld after Erdogan let human traffickers keep sending refugees and migrants who had gone to his country fleeing war and strife in their homelands.
Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, who represents the heads of state of member countries, sat while she was made to first stand awkwardly without being offered a chair, before settling on a couch.
They agreed that an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal in which Turkey was supposed to take back migrants refused asylum in Greece – but hasn’t – would be extended and Turkey offered a reward for living up to the deal.
Turkey is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants and hundreds of thousands had poured through mainly Greece and its islands before the EU closed its borders to them, leaving some 100,000 in Greece.
Von der Leyen, the commission’s first female president, was visibly irritated at the start of the talks with Erdoğan and Michel, the former Belgian prime minister, as she muttered an awkward “ehm,” as they sat and she stood.
Adding to the embarrassment, among the topics to be discussed, along with Turkey’s plans to hunt for energy around Greek islands was Erdogan’s decision to pull his country out of the Istanbul Convention aimed at protecting women’s rights, although apparently not a chair for them.
The EU in March, for a third time, rejected any idea of sanctions for Turkish provocations – this time first with the consent of Greece – for plans to go back into the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
“The President of the Commission was clearly surprised,” said the European Commission spokesman, Eric Mamer. “The President (Von der Leyen) should have been seated in exactly the same manner as the president of the European Council and the Turkish president,” he said, reported Kathimerini.
There was no response from Turkey or even an attempt to explain the gaffe.
A Dutch Member of the European Parliament, Sophie in ‘t Veld, asked why Michel hadn't reacted, nor did he offer his seat to Von der Leyen.
While the Commission conveyed von der Leyen’s irritation, an EU official who declined to be named said that to do so might have provoked a “protocol and political incident, both towards Turkey and the European Council,” requiring Von der Leyen to be deferential to the men.
“Turkey meant no disrespect,” the official said, trying to spin an awkward scene. “It extended a very courteous welcome to both presidents and strictly adhered to international protocol,” which apparently doesn’t include a chair for everyone.