Europe's feuding leaders 'refuse' to share jet
A feud between two of the European Union's leaders was exposed yesterday as the two men travelled in separate VIP jets on the same morning to the EU-Russia summit destination in Russia.
Rivalry between the EU president Herman Van Rompuy and the European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, whose title is also president, over who is Europe's true leader on the world stage meant that the pair and their entourages, would not share one aircraft.
Mr Van Rompuy, Belgium's former prime minister before he took the EU post, did not offer Mr Barroso space on an aircraft supplied to him by the Belgian air force at cheap rates.
Instead, Mr Barroso was forced to charter a 15-seater plane, said to be a Learjet, at high commercial rates to carry himself, Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and a group of officials to Russia.
Air Charter Service, a London-based company, estimated the cost of Mr Barroso's Brussels-to-Russia air taxi would be between €55,000 and €80,000.
Meanwhile, Mr Van Rompuy, accompanied by fewer than 15 officials, travelled in a 35-seat Embraer 135 jet, charged only at the cost of the aircraft's fuel consumption. Both planes left Brussels within four hours of each other for Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to hold talks on behalf of the EU with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The European Commission and Mr Van Rompuy's office defended the arrangement by saying that the EU's two most senior officials were too busy to co-ordinate their diaries and too important to travel in one aircraft.
"The two presidents, like other European and world leaders, have different working schedules and commitments and therefore different departure times," a spokesman said.
"As with heads of state and government, there are also other considerations, like security, which means that the two presidents do not normally travel together."
Martin Callanan MEP, the leader of European Conservatives, attacked a "ridiculous situation" where in-fighting was getting in the way of the most basic organisation.
Privately, officials admit that the Lisbon Treaty, which created Mr Van Rompuy's post of president of the European Council to give the EU a single voice at summits, has had the opposite effect by unleashing a power struggle.
"There is a titanic clash of egos over who is the most important EU figure on the world stage," said a source close to the row.
"People will ask why the EU cannot even organise its own travel arrangements. This childish squabbling will only diminish the EU's reputation."
Between 2006 and 2010, €7.5m was spent on VIP jet travel for commissioners, a bill said to have increased since the Lisbon Treaty created new posts.
To avoid the costs of charter planes for Mr Van Rompuy, Mr Barroso and Ms Ashton, at least four countries have offered to make an aircraft available, on a fuel cost basis.
But diplomats say the plan for a cut-price EU "air force one" has had to be dropped because of arguing over which president or official is Europe's most important and, thus, who would have first call on its services. Mr Van Rompuy's travel arrangements came under scrutiny last year when it was revealed that he used five official limousines to take his family on holiday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)