This whole Sofagate affair is incredibly sad for anyone who cares about Europe. It was of course very harmful for Turkey too. The visual snubbing of a woman representing the European Union was the worst thing that could happen to Ankara, whether it was deliberate or not. Turkey has an image problem in Europe, especially at a time when Erdogan is involved in highly symbolic maneuvers that are ruffling some sensitive feathers. The most prominent of these was Turkey’s abandonment of the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women.
Everything we learnt from what took place in the presidential palace, and then from Brussels, reinforced the image of a weak, if not anemic Europe. This is how the major players of the geopolitical chessboard see it. Firstly, nobody understands why the European Union needs to have two presidents representing it internationally. Nor do they understand exactly what each of them does. Only the Kremlinologists in Brussels that are dedicated to the matter do, but even they have gotten bored of it.
Neither of the two presidents possesses any real power anyway. They do not command an army, and they cannot take their own decisions. When it comes to power projection, they rank very low in the international ranking. The European Union’s foreign policy has ended up being somewhat of a joke nowadays following the disaster in Moscow and other incidents.
Sofagate brought to the forefront some of the deeper insecurities and maladies of the European Union. No leader of a major country would leave the choreography of a meeting with Erdogan to chance. Power can be found, in large part, in the rules of decorum, in the semantics. This requires planning, professionalism, and a serious and capable staff. However, it is a disaster that the incident in the palace has sunk Brussels into an introverted and self-destructive mood with the crux of the debate focused on who is to blame and whether Charles Michel got a good night’s sleep.
We have a difficult time ahead of us. The United States is making overtures to Europe because it needs it to cope with China and Russia. The international geopolitical game is going to get more serious, if not brutal. The European leaderships will find themselves before merciless dilemmas.
Recently, whenever any leader thought of Europe, they would immediately think of Merkel. She was the “boss,” she was the one you called if you wanted something done or if you wanted a decision. Merkel is on the way out, Macron is fighting for his political survival, and the two presidents are fighting over a sofa. Drastic measures and changes will be required for anyone to take Europe seriously in the near future.