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'They Conveniently Forgot To Notify Us': EU Diplomat Downgraded In D.C.

David O'Sullivan, ambassador of the European Union to the U.S., attends a signing ceremony in 2016 at the White House.
Carolyn Kaster
David O'Sullivan, ambassador of the European Union to the U.S., attends a signing ceremony in 2016 at the White House.

Updated Jan. 9 at 11 a.m. ET

The United States has quietly reclassified the European Union's Mission to the U.S., marking a snub that comes amid two years of tempestuous relations during the Trump administration.

The change came as a surprise, reports the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which broke the story.

The EU's ambassador to Washington, David O'Sullivan, had not been invited to some events last year, DW reports, and an open sign of his new status came as diplomats were called up to pay their respects to the late President George H.W. Bush in early December 2018. Prior to the change, O'Sullivan would have been among the first 20 or 30 ambassadors to be called up, in line with his fairly senior status as a diplomat serving in his post since 2014. DW reports he was called up last and that he had not been notified of the change.

"We don't exactly know when they did it, because they conveniently forgot to notify us," an unidentified EU official told DW.

Since 2016, the ambassador of the European Union to the United States has been on the Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence listequally with national ambassadors, says Maria Belovas, a spokeswoman for the EU delegation to the U.S.

"We see no reason why this diplomatic practice should not continue to be observed," she tells NPR.

Belovas notes that the practice in place until recently followed the Lisbon Treaty that commits the EU member states to a common foreign and security policy, which the EU ambassador to the United States represents. Now, O'Sullivan has been listed as the head of an international organization, along with the African Union.

Belovas adds that the EU has been in contact with the State Department.

Spokespersons at the State Department declined NPR's requests for details.

According toThe New York Times, the decision has been reversed, although possibly temporarily. NPR could not confirm this point.

Relations between Brussels and Washington have been tense under the Trump administration. The EU has placed a 25 percent tariff on more than $3 billion in U.S. goods, including bourbon, corn and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, NPR reports. These measures came in retaliation for new American tariffs that affected $7.5 billion in EU goods, including on steel and aluminum.

The U.S. has also clashed with its European allies over military spending. In July, President Trump spoke at a NATO summit, where he demanded member states step up their military spending and berated countries for not doing it faster. During the summit, Trump sparked rumors the U.S. might withdraw from the military compact that has stood for seven decades.

In his confrontations with the EU, the president does not always enjoy the support of his advisers. Earlier this month Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis left his post. In a pointed resignation letter, Mattis noted that "we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively in the world without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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