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January 9, 2019

EU in talks with US over embassy ‘downgrade’


January 9, 2019

BRUSSELS: The European Union said on Tuesday it is in talks with US officials after President Donald Trump’s administration reportedly "downgraded" the bloc’s embassy in Washington, in the latest blow to transatlantic relations.

The US State Department lowered the EU mission’s diplomatic status from member state to international organisation late last year, according to a report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The move apparently only came to light when the EU ambassador in Washington did not receive an invitation to the funeral of former US president George H W Bush in December, DW reported.

"We understand that there was a recent change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the United States’ Protocol," Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the European Commission’s diplomatic service, told AFP in an email.

"We are discussing with the relevant services in the administration possible implications for the EU Delegation in Washington." Kocijancic confirmed the EU was not notified of the change and said the bloc expected "the diplomatic practice established some years ago to be observed".

The news comes at a sensitive moment for EU-US relations, with the bloc’s top trade negotiator Cecilia Malmstrom on her way to Washington to try to breathe life into efforts to strike a trade deal and calm raging commercial tensions.

Officials in Brussels hope Malmstrom’s talks with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will persuade Trump away from slapping 25 percent tariffs on European car imports, that would mostly affect Germany and possibly spark a trade war.

Under Trump, Europe’s once solid relationship with the US has deteriorated and last year Washington put tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU and other partners. And last month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a major policy speech in Brussels to take aim at the bloc, saying Britain’s Brexit vote had raised valid questions about whether the EU was putting the interests of bureaucrats ahead of those of citizens.

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