By JASON GROVES
EU days: Peter Mandelson was Britain's
commissioner with Baroness Ashton
European chiefs have landed taxpayers with a ‘grotesque’ expenses bill running into millions of pounds that highlights once again the culture of excess in Brussels.
Private jets, luxury hotels, cocktail parties and even Tiffany jewellery were among the items claimed. MPs last night called for an inquiry following the release of astonishing details of commissioners’ lavish lifestyles.
In one case Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, ran up a £24,600 hotel bill during a luxury four-day stay in New York.
The figures reveal that the EU’s 27 commissioners clocked up a £6.6million bill for hiring private jets in the four years to 2010.
With extra expenses, the bill for their high life comes to £6.99million – but the sum is likely to be far higher.
The figures, extracted from official releases and answers to Parliamentary questions, provide a snapshot of the culture of excess – but sources say they represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The full extent is unlikely ever to be revealed as the figures are not routinely released.
Britain’s commissioners during the period were Peter Mandelson and Baroness Ashton. In 2009 alone, the Commission billed taxpayers £265,000 for cocktail parties.
Events included a £11,638 bill for a cocktail party for TV weathermen from across Europe, and two cocktail parties to celebrate Europe Day, at a total cost of £9,597.
The Commission also ran up a £66,000 bill for a ‘science’ event in Amsterdam which boasted a ‘night filled with wonder like no other… state-of-the-art technology, challenging art, combined with trendy cocktails, surprising performances and top DJs’.
Further figures reveal it spent £17,741 over three years on luxury jewellery for VIPs who agreed to appear at EU events. Figures included spending at the renowned jewellers Tiffany.
The Commission is bidding for a five per cent increase in its £117 billion-a-year budget.
Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris called for an investigation. The former MEP, who campaigned against Brussels waste, added: ‘The European commissioners behave like a royal court.
There is so much power concentrated in those 27 individuals and they are not directly accountable to anyone. They really do live it up. It is a proper jet-set lifestyle at our expense.’
The figures were unearthed following an investigation by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Its editor Iain Overton said: ‘Our findings raise questions not just about taxpayers’ money being wasted, but also about how accountable the European Commission is for its spending.’
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said ‘They [commissioners] are unaccountable, out of control. But I’m afraid I am not surprised because they treat taxpayers’ money with contempt.’
Martin Callanan MEP, Conservative leader in the European Parliament said: ‘When the commission said it needs a five per cent budget increase to “pay its bills”, we didn’t think it meant private jets, Tiffany jewellery and cocktail parties.
‘This is exactly the sort of spending that needs to be slashed.’
Mr Barroso’s £24,600 hotel bill covered a four-day stay at New York’s five-star Peninsula Hotel for himself and eight officials.
The Commission said it related to his attendance at a UN General Assembly, and the hotel was chosen to ‘fulfil a number of protocol and security requirements’.
A Commission spokeswoman last night claimed that the latest figures were ‘taken out of context and deliberately misinterpreted’. She said chartering private planes was ‘strictly regulated’ and only undertaken when there was no alternative.
She said that Mr Barroso’s New York hotel bill included the cost of hiring meeting rooms. She added that the refreshments bill was only a small percentage of the cost of the Amsterdam event.