It could be the umpteenth political flirtation between London and Brussels or something more serious. The Johnson government is currently reluctant to recognize João Vale de Almeida, the EU representative in the United Kingdom, and his team, the diplomatic status that their predecessors enjoyed until now. In fact, the colloquial term with which his position was called was "ambassador", and is interpreted as a "courtesy title". Until now. The British challenge is compounded by the fact that Almeida is a political heavyweight who has already served as the EU's ambassador to the United Nations and in the United States. At the moment, you will not be able to present your credentials to Isabel II.
In its attempt to cross-line 40 years of relations with the continent, the British Executive now maintains that it does not want to treat an atypical international organization – with its own currency, judicial system and legislative capacity – as if it were a State. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, sent a letter last November – published now by the BBC – to the British Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, in which he expressed his concern about the government's attitude by Johnson. “The conditions offered (for EU representatives) do not reflect the specific character of the EU, nor are they suited to future relations between the EU and the UK as a major third country. They would not guarantee the usual privileges and immunities to the delegation and its staff. They are not a reasonable basis for reaching an agreement, ”Borrell wrote.
Neither the Withdrawal Agreement, signed last February by London and Brussels, nor the Trade Agreement sealed at the end of last year, address the future situation of the staff at the head of the community delegation in the United Kingdom. The EU negotiator for all these years, Michel Barnier, has suggested this Thursday to the United Kingdom to "be careful" in handling this situation. “I am confident that we will be able to achieve an objective and intelligent solution to the status of the EU in London. It would be the wisest thing the UK could do, ”he said.
The creation of the EU Foreign Service, the fruit of the Lisbon Treaty, continues to be a process in continuous construction, like everything that has to do with Community innovations. It is not an old-fashioned diplomatic corps, the outer arm of any nation, and its tasks are more of coordination and liaison with the representatives of the Member States, many of whom – starting with the United Kingdom – have observed the situation with suspicion. role of these new international actors. The truth, however, is that more than 140 countries have granted diplomatic status to EU delegations. In practice, this implies certain tax advantages, immunity or the equivalent of a diplomatic passport for some of the personnel who work in them.
Since the 1970s, before the approval of the Lisbon Treaty, EU delegates have presented their credentials to the different governments of the countries in which they operated. Brussels defends its status according to the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty. And it reminds the British Executive that, having signed that treaty in its day, it recognized the diplomatic status of the EU Foreign Service. “We continue to negotiate with Brussels on the long-term readiness of the EU delegation in the UK. We do not wish to speculate on the details of that provision while the negotiations are ongoing, "said a spokesman for the British Foreign Office.
“The UK's attempt to downgrade the status of the EU delegation is petty, and will certainly provoke animosity when London needs friends in Brussels. It's worth remembering that Donald Trump tried the same trick and had to back down two months later. Is that a good precedent? ”, Wrote on his Twitter account Ian Bond, the director of Foreign Policy of the Center for European Reform (Center for European Reform).
The Trump Administration, which did not hide its lack of affection for the EU, lowered the official status of the then ambassador to Washington, David O'Sullivan, for almost a year, but returned to normality in March 2019. It was then that the US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, even stated in a statement that "the European Union was an organization of unique importance, and one of the main partners of the United States in defending global security and prosperity."
Since his arrival in the United Kingdom, Almeida has been very active in his purpose of weaving relationships with the sectors most affected by Brexit, such as the City of London, the financial heart of the country. Last week he assured that Brussels did not intend to put obstacles to the entities that aspired to obtain the "equivalence" necessary to operate in the Community market, and expressed his confidence that the United Kingdom and the EU would forge a firm commercial, diplomatic and international relationship. safety matters for years to come. "There is life beyond Brexit," he told his interlocutors. The EU foreign ministers are expected to address the issue of diplomatic status at their meeting next Monday. For the moment, life beyond Brexit offers, above all, new complications and diplomatic friction.