US downgrades EU mission status

The delegation's demotion was temporarily reversed after protest from Brussels

Mike Pompeo

The Trump administration downgraded the diplomatic status of the EU's delegation to the US last year without making a formal announcement or informing the bloc about the change, a European officials said on Tuesday. After protest from Brussels and discussion between the EU and the Trump administration, the reclassification of the delegation have been reversed, at least temporarily, the official said.

Trump has been critical of multilateral institutions, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, delivered a provocative speech in Brussels on 4 December in which he questioned the value of multinational organisations and institutions like the UN and the EU. Pompeo then asked whether the EU was “ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels.”

The EU's demotion from a member state to an international organisation became clear at the funeral of President George Bush, when Ambassador David O'Sullivan's name was not called in the expected order, dictated by diplomatic protocols. The names of diplomats who had gathered in Washington to pay their respects were spoken, as is, custom, from the longest-serving to the newest ambassador. Instead he was called up as the last person.

“We don't exactly know when they did it, because they conveniently forgot to notify us,” an EU official who is familiar with the matter told DW in an interview. “I can confirm that this has not been well received in Brussels,” he said, adding that the issue and an official EU response was still being discussed. Diplomats believe the downgrade must have been implemented in late October or early November.

The EU is expected to select a new ambassador to Washington soon, and it is not yet clear what status that envoy will have. “The move is the latest in a series of negative signals from the administration regarding the place of the EU in the international order,” said Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund office in Brussels. “It is very much in line with the tough language from Secretary Pompeo in his recent Brussels speech. Washington focuses on states and national sovereignty and the E.U. does not fit easily in this vision.”

The Trump administration has also been threatening a trade war with Brussels and the EU Member States, insisting that a trade deficit in goods of about $150bn a year needs to be reduced sharply. The move may be a way to increase pressure on Brussels to make more concessions in trade negotiations over steel, aluminium and cars.

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