US returns diplomatic status of EU representative in Washington

US President Donald J. Trump (R) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) make a joint statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 25 July 2018. [EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO]

After downgrading the EU’s diplomatic status last year, the US administration on Monday (4 March) said it had returned the EU representative in Washington back to the status of a national ambassador.

The US State Department said on Monday that it will recognise “the European Union’s representation in Washington as equivalent to that of a bilateral mission in the Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence.”

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has instructed the Chief of Protocol to take the necessary measures to effect this reinstatement,” it said in a statement.

The change will be “effective immediately,” it added.

The decision comes after complaints from Europe when, at the state funeral of former US President George Bush in early December, the Head of Delegation of the European Union, David O’Sullivan, was not called up in the usual chronological order, but as the last person.

In the Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence of the US State Department, the Head of Delegation of the European Union, David O’Sullivan, appeared only after all the ambassadors, ranked according to the date of presentation of their credentials.

EU puzzled by downgrade of its ambassador to Washington

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.

Prior to the demotion, O’Sullivan would have been ranked among the first 20 or 30 ambassadors of the more than 150 foreign representatives dispatched to the US capital.

According to diplomatic protocol, as a representative of an “international organisation”, he back then was on par with the African Union Ambassador to Washington, Arikana Chihombori Quao.

European diplomats saw this move as a sign of the chilled relations between the Washington and Brussels under President Donald Trump as the US administration did not notify the EU about the change in advance in line with diplomatic courtesy.

O’Sullivan described the downgrade as an “unfortunate incident”.

Naming no reason for the previous downgrade, US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, said in a statement that the EU “is a uniquely important organization, and one of America’s most valuable partners in ensuring global security and prosperity.”

“Europe’s security and success are inextricably linked to that of the United States, and this level of engagement and cooperation should be recognized appropriately in all settings,” he said.

Although no reason was provided for the three-month ‘relegation’, the upgrade coincides with the Greek former MEP, Stavros Lambrinidis, taking over the ambassadorship from O’Sullivan, who has been ambassador since 2014, as the EU representative in Washington.

In Brussels, US lawmakers seek to reassure worried Europeans

A high-ranking delegation of US lawmakers, led by House of Representatives Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, sought to reassure Europe of Washington’s continued commitment to transatlantic ties and NATO during a visit to Brussels on Tuesday (19 February).

In mid-February, a high-ranking delegation of US lawmakers, led by House of Representatives Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, sought to reassure Europe of Washington’s continued commitment to transatlantic ties and NATO during a visit to Brussels.

Some of the delegation criticised the downgrading, among them Democrat Congressman Gerry Connolly, who told EURACTIV that the downgrading was a “terrible mistake” by the US administration and expressed hopes that it would be “corrected very swiftly.”

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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