Vote Leave attacks European commission spending on jets and hotels

Vote Leave has challenged the European commission to explain five- and six-figure spending by Brussels officials on private jets , luxury hotels and an elite chauffeur service.

According to a European Union financial transparency system, commission staff spent €22,193 (£17,610) staying at the five-star Shangri-La hotel in Singapore and €54,677 at the five-star Stamford hotel in Brisbane in 2014.

Other expenses listed that year include €439,341 on Abelag/Luxaviation, a luxury private jet provider, and €23,696 on chauffeur taxi services.

Priti Patel, a Brexit campaigner, said European commission officials were “getting away with living the high life at our expense”.

Other European commission spending included €2,228 at the Restaurant de Watermolen in Antwerp and €7,450 at the Jean Monnet and Altiero Spinelli dining rooms of the Atelier Euro in Brussels, €2,500 at the European Golf Club and €907 at Club Zaudin Golf.

The European commission did not deny the figures, although it said some other expense items cited by Vote Leave were “simply absurd and some inaccurate”.

A spokesman said: “EU officials travel for work, the vast majority of the time in economy class and bound by strict rules. They have to pay upfront and are only reimbursed afterwards, if those strict rules allow it.

“Only the president and commissioners have permission to use (rented) private planes and it is the exception rather than the rule for use when scheduled air travel would be more expensive or does not allow them to meet the itineraries they need to meet.”

It is understood that some of the hotel expenditure was for staying at official locations for international summits. For example, the Stamford hotel was the accommodation designated for the European commission delegation during a G20 summit in Brisbane. Other spending on restaurants is likely to be for official functions.

However, Patel said the spending uncovered by Vote Leave was unacceptable. “Most families have been hit hard since the financial crisis, having to tighten their belts to make ends meet. But EU officials are using our money to fund their jollies and exorbitant expense claims,” she said.

“The only way to stop your money being spent in this way by EU bureaucrats is to vote leave on 23 June. If we leave the EU we can take back control of the £350m a week we send to Brussels and instead we can spend it on our priorities like the NHS.”

The dossier is likely to be inflammatory at a time when UK voters are deciding whether to leave the EU. The European commission, headed by president Jean-Claude Juncker, is the civil service of the EU and is based in Brussels. It is separate from the European parliament, which is made up of elected MEPs whose expenses are accounted for separately.

This year Juncker said the commission would largely stay out of the EU referendum debate in Britain. However, last month he warned that “deserters” would not be welcomed back if the UK voted to leave.

“If the British should say no, which I hope they don’t, then life in the EU will not go on as before,” he said. “The UK will have to accept being regarded as a third country, which won’t be handled with kid gloves.

“If the British leave Europe, people will have to face the consequences – we will have to, just as they will. It’s not a threat but our relations will no longer be what they are today.”

European politicians and officials have begun to be more outspoken about the potential consequences of the UK leaving since the polls in the contest have narrowed, with leave appearing to overtake remain.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said on Monday that if Britain votes to leave it could be the “beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also of western political civilisation in its entirety”.

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Tusk said Brexit would boost radical anti-European forces who would be “drinking champagne” to celebrate.

“Why is it so dangerous? Because no one can foresee what the long-term consequences would be,” he said.

Spending on luxuries by the European commission was first uncovered in 2011 by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It found that the office of José Manuel Barroso, then president of the commission, racked up a €249,000 bill for private jets in a nine-month period during which he attended the 2009 UN convention on climate change.

The bureau also found that Barroso and 35 others spent €28,000 at the luxury Peninsula New York hotel during the visit to the climate convention. It found that public money was used to fund a €75,000 cocktail party at a science conference, Discovery 09, which was “filled with wonder like no other … with trendy cocktails, surprising performances and top DJs”, while much of Europe was in the grip of recession.

The commission funded €300,000 worth of events described in internal documents as cocktail parties in the same year. At least a further €1.2m was spent on hotel and conference costs in 2009, including stays in San Diego, Prague and Balmoral.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 13th June 2016 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010