EU puzzled by downgrade of its ambassador to Washington

File Photo. David O'Sullivan, in his previous capacity of Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service, on 29 January 2013. [Julien Warnand/EPA/EFE]

The EU is currently discussing “possible implications” of a change in the diplomatic protocol in the US, which resulted in the Union having been downgraded in the precedence list to the level of an international organisation, together with the African Union.

Deutsche Welle first reported that the Trump administration downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union’s delegation to the United States.

In the Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence of the US State Department, the Head of Delegation of the European Union, David O’Sullivan, appears only after all the ambassadors, ranked according to the date of presentation of their credentials. As a representative of an “international organisation”, he is on par with the African Union Ambassador to Washington, Arikana Chihombori Quao.

At the state funeral of former US President George Bush on 5 December, O’Sullivan was not called up in the usual chronological order, but as the last person. Prior to the demotion, O’Sullivan — who has served as the EU’s ambassador to Washington since 2014 — would have been ranked among the first 20 or 30 ambassadors of the more than 150 foreign representatives dispatched to the US capital.

The downgrade was probably implemented in late October or early November and was not widely publicised.  When EU diplomats recently asked for explanations, they were told that the US side forgot to notify them.

Asked on Tuesday (8 January) about the reported downgrade, Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said:

“We understand there is a change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the US protocol and we are currently discussing with the US administration possible implications for the EU Delegation in Washington.”

Asked to comment on the downgrade against the background of the deteriorating relations between Brussels and Washington, Kocijancic quoted her boss Federica Mogherini, who recently said that ties between Europe and the United States extended deeply beyond Washington DC and were running deep into societies on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Whatever policy disagreements we may have with the US administration, we remain natural partners, natural friends, and our friendship with the US is here to stay”, the spokesperson added, quoting Mogherini.

Asked about a possible tit-for-tat response by Brussels, Kocijancic declined to answer.

The EU was elevated to the level of a nation state under President Barack Obama in 2016. The Trump administration actually returned to the status quo ante, the status of an international organisation.

“You know very well that the EU is an international organisation,” Kocijancic admitted.

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