Bratislava, Slovakia – The head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has been accused of hypocrisy after media reports found that she used a private plane to fly between Bratislava and Vienna last June.
The 19-minute flight between the Slovak and Austrian capitals. located some 55 kilometres from one another, was part of von der Leyen’s tour of EU capitals to discuss the bloc’s pandemic recovery package.
As the eyes of the world are turned on the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the Daily Telegraph’s revelations have sparked a backlash, with many accusing the head of the EU Commission of hypocrisy and of failing to lead by example considering the environmental and financial impact of private jets.
On Thursday, her spokesman Eric Mamer replied to the accusations, saying the trip from Vienna to Bratislava was part of a tight two-day tour in five different countries and that all the private flights were “not feasible with commercial flights.”
“An air taxi is only used when necessary, to enable presence at meetings in various places on a very packed schedule,” he said.
He argued it was impossible to use other means of transportation considering the distance she needed to travel afterwards (she was due in Riga, Latvia, after her brief stay in Slovakia).
Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest capital cities in Europe (apart from Rome and Vatican City) and among the closest in the world (located only a few kilometers away, Kinshasa and Brazzaville take the top spot).
The Telegraph also revealed that von der Leyen used private jets for more than half of her official visits (18 out of 34) since taking office in December 2019, including between other nearby destinations such as Paris and London.
According to environmental watchdogs, private jets can emit two tonnes of CO2 in only one hour (EU citizens emit on average a little over 8 tonnes of CO2 in a whole year). Private jets are considered 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial flights (per passenger), and 50 times more polluting than trains.