The US’ ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland put an end to a dispute between the Americans and the European Union over diplomatic protocol with an announcement early on March 4 which said that Washington had “effective immediately” reversed the recent demotion of Brussels’ ambassador in the ceremonial order of precedence.

“The European Union is a uniquely important organisation and one of America’s most valuable partners in ensuring global security and prosperity,” said Sondland as he sought to soothe the friction that was caused in early January that only underscored the already deteriorating trans-Atlantic relations over disagreements on trade tariffs, the Trump Administration’s verbal attacks against NATO allies, and a general refusal by the EU to join Washington’s sanctions against Iran, which are aimed at curtailing Tehran’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the Middle East and Europe.

From generating jobs and economic growth, to setting international standards, to keeping destabilising regimes in check, the United States and the European Union are a strong force when we work together.  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,” said Sondland.

The US government downgraded the bloc’s diplomatic status shortly after the New Year. Prior to the change, the State Department’s order of precedence had treated the EU’s ambassador as an equivalent to a chief of state or head of government and listed in precedence order with the other representatives of sovereign nations – a policy that had been put into place by the Obama Administration.

The White House’s demotion of the bloc, which was not announced by the Trump Administration, first came to Brussels’ attention on December 5, 2018, during the state funeral service for former US President George H.W. Bush. The EU’s ambassador to the US, David O’Sullivan, was not called up in the usual chronological order, from the longest-serving to the newest ambassador, but was instead announced last.

O’Sullivan, who is in the process of exiting his post in Washington, was ranked amongst the top 30 ambassadors in terms of seniority of the more than 150 foreign representatives dispatched to the US capital. By demoting him this, in effect, lowered the EU’s status for occasions and seating events, both of which are considered key protocols in the decorum of diplomatic affairs.

The State Department said after Sondland’s announcement that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had instructed his Chief of Protocol to take the necessary measures to reinstate the EU’s previous status.

Washington’s reversal comes just as Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s Greek-born former human rights representative, takes up his post as the bloc’s ambassador to the US.