The European Commission has defended its use of air taxis for international meetings despite costs of tens of thousands of euros.
The revelations came after Spanish NGO Access Info and Belgian magazine Knack published details of commissioners’ travel costs for January and February last year, which they had obtained via freedom of information requests.
These showed that commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had spent €25,000 on a plane to Rome, that foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini paid €75,000 on a journey to Baku and Yerevan and that Christos Stylianides, the humanitarian aid commissioner, paid €11,000 for a voyage to Somalia and Turkey, among other destinations.
The NGO is still awaiting information for expenses costs for the rest of the year.
Mina Andreeva, a commission spokeswoman, said in Brussels on Wednesday (9 August) that the Juncker trip involved eight other people and that the cost per person was about €2,900.
She said the commissioners ought to travel widely because they were the EU’s “best ambassadors” and needed to “explain our policy” to EU citizens and further afield.
She noted that they took standard flights when these were available, but that they sometimes had to charter planes when no normal flights matched their agenda, or for “security reasons”.
Andreeva added that Juncker seldom travels outside of Brussels, with an average of just over two trips per month, including his monthly attendance at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
She also defended the commission’s decision not to automatically post expenses information online, but to await formal public or press requests, saying the work needed to collate information and to explain it to the public would be too great a burden otherwise.
Andreeva said the Access Info campaign generated 196 requests that were processed in less than six months, but Knack reported its campaign for information on the issue began three years ago.
“We are actually one of the most transparent administrations in the world,” she said.
The 28 EU commissioners spent about €500,000 in total on travel in January and February last year – on hotels and flights.
The commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans, was among the lowest spenders with €6,861.