The President’s snub means EU diplomats in Washington are less likely to be invited to high-profile events and will be given less importance than they had under former president Barack Obama.
Trump’s decision to put ‘America First’ is said to reflect growing tensions between the US and Europe. The president openly supports Brexit and last year described the EU as one of his greatest ‘foes’.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle first discovered the downgrading and an EU official said it was most evident at the funeral of former US president George HW Bush, when Europe’s envoy was among the last diplomats to be called to pay respects.
A Commission spokeswoman declined to give any details but told a press breifing: ‘We understand that there was a recent change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the United States’ protocol.
‘We are currently discussing with the relevant services in the administration possible implications for the EU delegation in Washington.’
Two other EU diplomats confirmed the downgrade, with one saying it was unlikely the bloc would retaliate given its desire for good relations.
US diplomats in Brussels are yet to comment on the change in protocol but Nicholas Burns, who was under secretary of state for political affairs in the George W Bush administration described it as a ‘gratuitous and entirely unreasonable swipe’ at the EU.
He said: ‘It coincides with Trump’s campaign to depict the EU as a competitor, and not a partner, of the US.’
Mr Burns added: ‘Americans should remember that the EU is our largest trade partner and largest investor in our economy.
‘Trump’s entire policy toward the EU continues to be misguided and ineffective.’
Trump has often shown his disdain for the EU in backing Brexit despite the US and EU having the largest bilateral trade ties and America investing three times as much as Asia in the bloc.
The downgrading doesn’t mean senior EU officials will be blocked from meeting their US counterparts but it does put a strain on relations between the two.
Trump withdrew from several international agreements backed by the EU and vowed to reform ‘the liberal international order’ he says the bloc helps underpin.
In a speech in Brussels in December, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Trump’s ‘America First’ policy was reshaping the post-World War Two system on the basis of sovereign states, not multilateral institutions.
He also took aim at ‘bureaucrats’ responsible for upholding multilateralism ‘as an end in itself’ and cast doubt on the EU’s commitment to its citizens, which the European Commission strongly dismissed.