In a video of the awkward moment in Ankara, von der Leyen seems unsure of where to sit, gesturing with her right hand and saying “ehm” while Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel take their seats.
Von der Leyen was eventually offered a seat on a sofa nearby, facing Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who occupies a lower status in diplomatic protocol.
At previous meetings, the three presidents have all sat together.
Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, said von der Leyen “was clearly surprised and that’s something you can see from the video.” He added that “it is difficult to judge the reasons why she was offered one type of seat rather than another, it is something that you will have to ask the Turkish authorities about.”
Mamer said Turkey had been responsible for organizing the meeting.
He added that what I can say when it comes to “the Commission’s view abroad is that the level of protocol for our President is exactly the same as for the President of the European Council. Our President is a member of the European Council in his own right and in general, when she travels abroad, she is treated in exactly the same way as the President of the European Council would be. “
CNN has reached out to both the EU Council and the Turkish Presidency for comment.