A diplomatic faux pas that left European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen without a chair as male counterparts took their seats at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stirred controversy in Brussels.

Video from yesterday's encounter in Ankara showed Ms von der Leyen flummoxed as the Turkish leader and European Council President Charles Michel took their seats in front of their flags.

"Ehm," muttered the former German defence minister, appearing unsure where to go.

Eventually she was seated on a sofa a little further away from her counterparts, opposite Turkey's foreign minister, someone below her in the protocol pecking order.

The apparent snub came at a delicate moment as the EU and Turkey look to rebuild ties despite concerns over Ankara's record on rights, including the protection of women.

Mr Erdogan angered Brussels ahead of the visit by the bloc's chiefs by announcing he was withdrawing Turkey from the global Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and children.

Speaking after the meeting with the Turkish leader, Ms von der Leyen stressed that "human rights issues are non-negotiable".

"I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention" she said.

"This is about protecting women, and protecting children against violence, and this is clearly the wrong signal right now."

The perceived slight to the first woman ever to occupy one of the EU's top two roles stirred anger among some in Brussels.

"First they withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and now they leave the President of European Commission without a seat in an official visit. Shameful. #WomensRights," wrote Spanish European Parliament member Iratxe Garcia Perez.


German MEP Sergey Lagodinsky wrote of Ms von der Leyen's utterance that "'Ehm' is the new term for 'that's not how EU-Turkey relationship should be'.

But not all the ire was directed at the Turkish side.

Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld was left questioning why Mr Michel was "silent" as his female colleague was left without a seat.