The musical chairs farce reveals a deeper truth about the EU

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.

Not since a crusader knight boorishly sat on the Byzantine emperor’s throne in Constantinople in 1096 has that part of the world seen such a row about chairs. It may be an almost opéra bouffe episode but, contemplating it, we descry several things. We see the EU’s preoccupation with tiny questions of status and etiquette, an obsession that grows as its popularity dwindles. We see the way in which utility is sacrificed to the need to find jobs for the boys: there were, at the last count, no fewer than seven EU presidents, but not even the most deranged FBPE fanatic claims that the EU is seven times more effective in consequence.

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.” 

Without wishing to rub it in, Michel has form when it comes to waving false accusations about. He has still not retracted his outrageous claim that Britain is limiting the export of vaccines – something that, as he well knows, Britain is not doing, but the EU is.

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