Trump’s state department downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union’s US delegation at some point in 2018, without informing the EU, according to the Washington Post.
Since 2016, the EU delegation had enjoyed a status equivalent to that of a national embassy, with its head considered an ambassador. The Trump administration now appears to have changed this status to that of other international organizations like the African Union, ranking below representatives from sovereign nations.
To make matters worse, the administration didn’t inform the EU of the change, which only became apparent when EU Ambassador David O’Sullivan was unexpectedly called last in the order of invitations to the funeral of former president George H.W. Bush last month, in a breach of established protocol.
“We understand that there was a recent change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the United States’ Protocol. We are discussing with the relevant services in the administration possible implications for the EU delegation in Washington. We were not notified of any change. We expect the diplomatic practice established some years ago to be observed.”
After criticism from O’Sullivan and the rest of the EU delegation, The New York Times reported that EU officials had said that the change had been at least temporarily rescinded.
Rather than an isolated incident, the downgrade fits into a broader pattern of antipathy by the Trump administration toward the EU and other multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.
Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech in Brussels titled “Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order,” in which he said:
“Brexit – if nothing else – was a political wake-up call. Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?”
Amid trade tensions, President Trump called the EU a “foe” in July. He has supported calls in the UK to withdraw from the EU, and hosted the campaign’s leaders, such as Nigel Farage.
The move comes at a precarious time for the EU, with many other challenges from “sovereigntist” movements across its member states. In recent years, the EU has sought to upgrade its diplomatic status in partner countries such as the US, to be treated more similarly to nation states. If the administration’s change stays in place, it will represent a serious blow to those efforts.