EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini are in the center of a controversy for spending many thousands of euros on private charters as part of official missions, an information inquiry reveals.
The documents obtained via an information request filed by Access Info Europe, a human rights group based in Spain, shed light on the tremendous travel expenses claimed by the EU officials in the first two months of 2016.
Although Access Info filed the request three years ago, the EU commission was reluctant to disclose its financial details, at first releasing heavily redacted documents covering several months, Helen Darbishire, the group’s director, said, as cited by the Guardian.
The documents published Tuesday by Belgian magazine Knack, which supports the NGO in its years-long battle with EU bureaucrats, show that in the course of two months the EU commissioners spent almost half a million euro (€492,249) on travel-related costs.
While the sum includes travel expenses by all 28 Euro commissioners, the costs incurred by two top EU officials stood out.
One of the most striking revelations is the amount of money spent by Mogherini and her entourage to fly over to Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, for a summit late February.
The overall mission costs’ that included a private charter exceeded €75,000 the documents revealed.
In total, she claimed €96,091 in travel expenses during the two-month period scrutinized in the report.
Juncker also opted to lease a charter plane for himself and an accompanying delegation of eight people flying to Rome last February to meet with senior Italian officials.
The visit, that lasted for only a day, cost Euro taxpayers a whopping €26,351.
Defending the extravagant way of travel by the top Eurocrats, EU Commission deputy spokesman Mina Andreeva said that in case of Juncker the expenses were justified as there was “no viable commercial plane available that would fit the president’s agenda.”
Dismissing the notion that EU officials indulge in luxury travelling by private charters, Andreeva pointed that commissioners are immersed in “hard work” like “reading documents with your files and marking them” while in the air.
Worth noting, that apart from a trip to Rome, that has drawn media attention due to its out-of-the-ordinary cost, Juncker was far less spendthrift in his other five trips in those two months, having spent €31,940 in total.
Meanwhile, the report prompted the avid Brexiteer, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, to launch an attack on the EU, while calling Juncker’s conduct “outrageous.”
“I suppose these junket expenses are all part of the make-believe ‘Brexit bill’ which these Commissioners have plucked out of thin air and are trying to extort from our government,” Farage said, as cited by the Daily Express.
Access Info said they would continue to push for more transparency from the EU Commission, predicting that the revelations could be just “the tip of the iceberg” and mulling legal action if the EU refuses to disclose its expenses in full.
Late July, Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission Vice President, told the group that it would be too heavy a burden for the European Commission to publish all the data on travel expenses proactively, saying that the costs of its processing “would be disproportionate.”