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Ursula von der Leyen blames sexism for ‘sofagate’ controversy

Ursula von der Leyen said the incident made her feel "hurt" and "alone as a woman and as a European" - Credit: Getty Images

European Commission female president Ursula von der Leyen has blamed sexism for the “sofagate” debacle in Turkey earlier this month.

Von der Leyen was left without a chair during a meeting in Ankara with Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan on April 6.

She said that the incident only happened because she is a woman.

“I cannot find any justification for how I was treated, so I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman,” she said during a speech to the European parliament on Tuesday.

Video footage of the meeting showed von der Leyen visibly taken aback when Erdogan and European Council president Charles Michel sat on the only two chairs in front of EU and Turkey flags, forcing her to go and sit on an adjacent sofa.

She said she “felt hurt” and “alone as a woman and as a European”.

“I am the president of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey, but I was not,” von der Leyen said.

“This shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals – always and everywhere.”

Turkish authorities have hit back, blaming the EU for the error.

MORE: EU considers suspending membership talks with Turkey over human rights violations

Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “The protocol at the presidency met the demands of the EU side.

“In other words, the seating arrangement was designed to meet their demands and suggestions.”

Michel also expressed his regret over the situation, which he said he understood offended many women.

He previously said he regretted not intervening in a Facebook post on 7 April.

In the post, he said: “While realising the regrettable nature of the situation, we decided not to make matters worse by creating a scene.

“At the beginning of the meeting, we resolved instead to focus on the substance of the political discussions, which Ursula and I were to embark upon with our hosts.”

The meeting was arranged as an attempt to repair relations between the European Union and Turkey.