Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a “dictator” and criticized him for relegating European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to a sofa during an official visit on Tuesday.
“I felt very sorry for the humiliation that European Commission President von der Leyen had to undergo,” Draghi said during a press conference Thursday evening.
During the official visit in Ankara, Erdoğan offered European Council President Charles Michel a chair next to him, leaving a visibly irritated von der Leyen to sit on a nearby couch — an incident that has since gone viral online and been dubbed Sofagate.
“I believe it wasn’t appropriate behavior,” Draghi said, before commenting on how one should deal with “dictators.”
“With these — let’s call them for what they are — dictators, which we however need to cooperate with … one has to be frank in expressing a diversity of views, opinions, behaviors, visions of society. And also has to be ready to cooperate to safeguard the interests of their country. This is important. We have to find the right equilibrium,” said Draghi, a former European Central Bank boss.
Michel later said the incident was not his fault but rather the result of a “strict interpretation by the Turkish services of protocol rules.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, von der Leyen’s predecessor as Commission president, came to Michel’s defense and played down the significance of the Turkish snub, saying he also had to sit on a sofa in the past in accordance with protocol.