This piece in CapX by Daniel Hannan covers a minor story most people will have seen already. I originally smiled about it before moving on. Probably many of us had that reaction.
It was a funny yet telling moment. Two of the EU’s presidents, the Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen and the Council’s Charles Michel, turned up last week for a summit with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Spotting that there was only one armchair next to the Turkish leader’s, Michel didn’t hesitate: he accelerated toward the empty seat and heaved himself into it, leaving von der Leyen opening and closing her mouth helplessly.
Yet as Hannan suggests, it is worth more weighty consideration as a litmus test of the looming disaster that is EU decline.
We see, too, that the first instinct of the Eurocrat is to accuse others. Stung by the charge that he had behaved badly, the former Belgian PM immediately blamed the Turks for not providing enough chairs. This claim is not credible: officials from the two sides always agree these details in advance. As Turkey’s Anglophile foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, later confirmed: “The EU side’s requests were met: the seating arrangement was made according to their suggestions. Our protocol units came together previously and their demands were accommodated.”
Still amusing, but Hannan manages to suggest the menacing side of it too. It feels more sinister than an entertaining protocol kerfuffle. Turkey has its own problems, but if even Turkey considers stepping back from its relationship with the EU, then EU bureaucrats really do have a problem. Or rather they don’t – EU citizens have the problem.
All in all, then, the summit represented several things: the EU’s Gormenghast-like obsession with ritual, a characteristic of many fading powers; the absurdity of having a plethora of presidents; the shockingly undiplomatic behaviour of the President of the European Council; and the way in which Turkey is, quite understandably, stepping back from its relationship with an unreliable neighbour.
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