EU Commission: von der Leyen unconcerned by missed handshake

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. European Union leaders on Thursday lauded the bloc's vaccine cooperation with Africa in the fight against the coronavirus, but there was no sign they would move toward a temporary lifting of intellectual property rights protection for COVID-19 shots. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS – The European Commission on Monday downplayed as a “storm in a teacup” an incident last week at a 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 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, Odongo posed for photographs between Michel and von der Leyen. Macron then gestured as if he wanted to introduce von der Leyen to Odongo, and the pair engaged in a brief conversation.

Caught on camera, the incident was abundantly commented on social networks, with many criticizing Michel for his passivity.

The scene also drew comparison with the so-called Sofagate last year when von der Leyen said she felt hurt and alone during a meeting with Turkey’s president. Von der Leyen and Michel had met with 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 Michel took the chair next to 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 von der Leyen. Mamer said 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,” Mamer said. “Please, leave the European Commission president out of this story.... Frankly, I think we should avoid making a storm in a teacup.”