21 February 2022

European Commission downplays missed handshake incident as ‘storm in a teacup’

21 February 2022

The European Commission has downplayed an incident last week at an EU-Africa summit in Brussels during which its president, Ursula von der Leyen, was hardly acknowledged by a foreign minister.

The official, Ugandan foreign minister Jeje Odongo, slightly nodded as he walked past Ms von der Leyen and did not stop to greet her before shaking hands with EU Council president Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron during a staged photo event.

After an exchange of words with the two men, Mr Odongo posed for photographs between Mr Michel and Ms von der Leyen.

Mr Macron then gestured as if he wanted to introduce Ms von der Leyen to Mr Odongo, and the pair engaged in a brief conversation.

Uganda’s foreign minister is welcomed by Charles Michel and Emmanuel Macron (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

Caught on camera, the incident was widely commented upon on social networks, with many criticising Mr Michel for his passivity.

The scene also drew comparison with the so-called Sofagate last year when Ms von der Leyen said she felt hurt and alone during a meeting with Turkey’s president.

Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel had met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara for talks on EU-Turkey relations. But only two chairs were set out in front of the EU and Turkish flags for the three leaders, and Mr Michel took the chair next to Mr Erdogan.

Asked Monday about the awkward moment with the Ugandan foreign minister, EU commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said the incident was not addressed at all by Ms von der Leyen.

Mr Mamer said Ms von der Leyen is kept busy by the worrying tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

He added that the commission did not play any role in the controversy playing out in the media.

“Who said that there was an incident? Did you hear the European Commission say that there was an incident? Absolutely not,” Mr Mamer said.

“Please, leave the European Commission president out of this story… Frankly, I think we should avoid making a storm in a teacup.”

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