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The European Commission President splashed out tens of thousands of pounds on so-called “air taxis” in her first three months in the job. Since becoming the EU’s most senior official, the former German defence minister has made the creation of a “European green deal” the main aim for her presidency. She pledged to lead a significant overhaul of the economy in order to deliver carbon neutrality across the 27-member bloc by 2050.
But Mrs von der Leyen has yet to reform her travel plans, opting to take private aircraft to six of her 14 official trips between December and February.
Private jets emit up to 20 times more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than a commercial flight and much more than this when compared with trains.
According to European Commission rules, “air taxis” should only be used when there are no suitable commercial travel alternatives.
Mrs von der Leyen has opted for private jets on several short-haul trips, including to hold Brexit talks with Boris Johnson.
She chartered a plane to and from London to give a lecture at the London School of Economics before meeting the Prime Minister at No10.
The trip from Brussels to the capital takes just two hours on the Eurostar train, the mode of transport enjoyed by Britain’s Brexit negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.
On another occasion, the German used a jet for a meeting at the former home of European federalist Jean Monnet on the outskirts of Paris.
Mrs von der Leyen used the trip to conduct talks with Council President Charles Michel and Parliament President David Sassoli on the “future of the EU”.
Frequent trains between Brussels and Paris could have had the bloc’s three chiefs at their destination in little more than 90 minutes.
Most of the trips where “air taxis” were used were for relatively short journeys, including to a summit in Berlin and the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
They were also booked for a meeting of the Commission’s 27 top officials in the Croatian capital Zagreb, a trip to the Greek-Turkish border and a meeting with the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
One of the most expensive private jets cost £6,750 “per person” for a five-night trip to Berlin, then to Davos and onto Tel Aviv, Israel, to visit a Holocaust memorial.
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The Commission declined to reveal the exact details of the trip, but it is understood at least ten officials were on board, meaning the cost of the jets was more than £60,000.
Mrs von der Leyen also added £2,874 for hotels to her taxpayer-funded travel bill.
She also claimed £1,100 in “miscellaneous costs” and £250 in “daily allowances”.
The German’s trip to the Ethiopian capital cost £4,000 per person, but publicly available information revealed it was for her College of 27 commissioners, meaning it could have potentially cost more than £100,000.
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The other eight missions on her schedule involved commercial flights, including a second trip to Addis Ababa.
A Commission spokesman said some of Mrs von der Leyen’s trips had to be made by private planes because of “scheduling constraints”.
They added: “The use of chartered air transport (air taxis) can be considered only when commercial flights are not available to reach a destination, when they do not fit with a Commissioner’s or the President’s diary or for security reasons.
“Furthermore, when it comes to air taxi arrangements, often several commissioners are on board together with their staff and representatives from other EU institutions.”
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