US Democrats demand answers on EU mission downgrade

Washington (AFP) –


Democratic lawmakers on Monday demanded that the Trump administration explain a downgrade in status to the European Union mission in Washington, calling the quietly implemented decision insulting and counterproductive.

Twenty-seven members of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide answers by January 30, saying they were "deeply troubled" by the move and that Congress was not consulted.

"Both the substance of this decision and the undiplomatic way in which it was carried out needlessly denigrate transatlantic relations," said a letter by the lawmakers led by Representative Eliot Engel, the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"We ought to support and strengthen our allies, not turn them into foes," they wrote.

"Insulting them for no apparent reason does not typically encourage them to take a warmer view of the United States," the letter said sarcastically, noting that the United States was asking the 28-member bloc at the same time to take actions ranging from offering trade concessions to increasing pressure on Iran and China.

The Trump administration lowered the EU mission's diplomatic status to be considered an international organization rather than a state -- the level recognized under former president Barack Obama, officials said.

President Donald Trump has championed national sovereignty and has made no secret that he holds international bodies in low esteem, including by encouraging Britain to make a clean break from the European Union.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which first reported the downgrade, said the mission only found out about the decision when the EU ambassador in Washington did not receive an invitation in December to the funeral of former president George H.W. Bush.

The European Union said it was in discussions with Washington to understand the reason for the change.

The State Department has not commented on the move, with regular press briefings canceled due to a partial shutdown of the US government as Trump demands funding for a wall on the Mexican border.