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'My visit to Turkey showed how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals'

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Today (26 April) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a strong statement on her treatment during her visit to Ankara to meet with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the European Council president to discuss EU-Turkey relations. 

The statement was part of a joint briefing to MEPs with European Council President Charles Michel on the recent EU summit and the controversial EU-Turkey meeting where the Commission president was denied equal standing with her peer, in an incident referred to as “sofagate” where Von der Leyen was offered a place on a sofa, while Michel and Erdogan sat on chairs.

“I am the first woman to be president of the European Commission. I am the president of the European Commission and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a commission president, but I was not. I cannot find any justification for the way I was treated in the European treaties,” she concluded that it was because she was not wearing a suit and a tie.

She said: “In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs, but then again I did not see any women in these pictures either. Many of you will have had quite similar experiences in the past, especially the female members of this house. I'm sure you know exactly how I felt hurt and I felt alone as a woman and as a European, because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are. This goes to the values our union stands for. And this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals always and everywhere.”

Von der Leyen acknowledged that she was in a privileged position compared to other women and underlined how it was even more important that she spoke up for those women who are not heard: “When I arrived at the meeting, there were cameras in the room. Thanks to them, the short video of my arrival immediately went viral and caused headlines around the world. There was no need for subtitles. There was no need for translations, the images spoke for themselves.

“We all know that thousands of similar incidents go unobserved, nobody ever sees them or hears about them, because there is no camera, because there is nobody paying attention. We have to make sure that these stories are told and that they are acted upon.”

She used the statement to call for adoption of the Istanbul convention on violence against women and children. Von der Leyen described it as a groundbreaking legal text and an inspiring document. It is the first internationally binding instrument to take a broad approach to combating violence against women and children. 

Von der Leyen used the meeting in Ankara to reiterate her concerns about Turkey withdrawing from the convention, but added that to be credible all EU states need to ratify the convention. At this moment Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland are among the countries that have opposed formal ratification. Von der Leyen said that she would like the EU itself to become a signatory. 

Cyprus

France calls Turkish-Cypriot move on ghost town a 'provocation'

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French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France, June 25, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

France on Wednesday (21 July) criticized as a "provocation" a move by Turkish Cypriot authorities to partially reopen an abandoned town in Cyprus for potential resettlement, in the latest critique from the West that Ankara has dismissed, write Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, Reuters.

Turkish Cypriots said on Tuesday (20 July) that part of Varosha would come under civilian control and people would be able to reclaim properties - angering Greek Cypriots who accused their Turkish rivals of orchestrating a land-grab by stealth. Read more.

Varosha, an eerie collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences in a military zone nobody has been allowed to enter, has been deserted since a 1974 war split the island.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (pictured) discussed the matter with his Cypriot counterpart on Tuesday and will raise the topic at the United Nations, a spokesperson for Le Drian's ministry said.

Cyprus is represented in the European Union by an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government. France presides over the U.N. Security Council this month.

"France strongly regrets this unilateral move, upon which there had been no consultations, which constitutes a provocation and harms re-establishing the confidence needed to get back to urgent talks over reaching a fair and long-lasting solution to the Cypriot question," Le Drian's spokesperson said.

The EU, the United States, Britain and Greece also objected to the plan unveiled when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan visited Nicosia on Tuesday. He called it a "new era" for Varosha, on the island's eastern coast.

Turkey's foreign ministry said the EU's critique was "null and void" since it is disconnected from realities on the ground and favours Greece, an EU member. "It is not possible for the EU to play any positive role in reaching a settlement to the Cyprus issue," it said.

Peace efforts have repeatedly floundered on the ethnically split island. A new Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Turkey, says a peace accord between two sovereign states is the only viable option.

Greek Cypriots reject a two-state deal for the island that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.

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Cyprus

Cyprus talks can resume only on two-state basis, Erdogan says

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) has said peace talks on the future of ethnically divided Cyprus can take place only between "the two states" on the Mediterranean island, in comments sure to further annoy Greek Cypriots and the EU, write Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Michele Kambas.

Turkish Cypriot officials also announced plans for the potential resettlement of a small part of the now abandoned Greek Cypriot suburb of Varosha on the island's east coast.

That move too is likely to infuriate Greek Cypriots as essentially staking ownership over an area the United Nations says should be placed under the control of peacekeepers.

"A new negotiation process (to heal Cyprus' division) can only be carried out between the two states. We are right and we will defend our right to the end," Erdogan said in a speech in the divided Cypriot capital of Nicosia.

He was marking the anniversary of a Turkish invasion on July 20, 1974, days after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. The island has remained split ever since into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north.

Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus internationally and are backed by the European Union, reject a two-state deal for the island which would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.

Decked out in red-and-white Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, the celebratory mood in north Nicosia on Tuesday stood in stark contrast with a sombre mood in the south, where Greek Cypriots were woken by air raid sirens marking the day Turkish forces landed 47 years ago.

Although the United Nations has grappled inconclusively with Cyprus for decades, the dispute has come into sharper focus due to competing claims over offshore energy reserves and the recent re-opening by Turkish Cypriots of part of Varosha to visitors.

Varosha has been a Turkish military zone since 1974, widely viewed as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal.

On Tuesday, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said his administration would scrap the military status of about 3.5% of Varosha and allow beneficiaries to apply to a commission mandated to offer compensation or restitution of properties.

A spokesman for Cyprus's internationally-recognised government said authorities would be briefing the EU and the United Nations Security Council on the matter.

The sealed-off area includes 100 hotels, 5,000 homes and businesses previously owned mostly by Greek Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot authorities opened up part of it to the public in November 2020.

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European Commission

Mid-Term Evaluation of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey: EU support made a significant contribution to the welfare of Syrians and others fleeing conflict in the region

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Within the framework of the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, the European Union, through the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, has mobilized €6 billion in assistance to refugees in Turkey. The independent evaluation finds that the Facility for Refugees in Turkey has made a significant contribution to the welfare of Syrians and others fleeing conflict in the region in areas such as health, education, protection and socio-economic support. However, the report also finds that the EU needs to do more to mitigate social tensions for refugees, including developing a social cohesion strategy. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) announced at the European Council of 24-25 June, the EU Budget would provide €3bn over 2021-2023, demonstrating the EU's continued solidarity with refugees and host communities in Turkey.

President von der Leyen said: “Ten years into the Syrian conflict, our partners in the region still carry the lion's share of the burden. It is our collective challenge to protect the refugees and support their hosts.” Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, said: “This evaluation is a valuable source of information on the EU's Facility for Refugees in Turkey; we will draw inspiration from this to guide the mobilization of the €3bn in additional socio-economic support to refugees from the EU budget so they can make their own living, a key investment for their future and the stability of the region and beyond. I look forward to continuing our good co-operation with Turkey on this joint effort.”

A press release is available online together with the Main Report of the Strategic Mid-Term Evaluation, a factsheet, the Fifth Annual Report and an overview of projects on the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey.

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