European Commission chief accused of ‘ecological sin’

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been criticized for using a private jet for a flight that lasted less than 20 minutes as countries grow increasingly concerned about climate change.

Von der Leyen became the subject of scrutiny after it was revealed that she had used a private jet to fly roughly 50km from Vienna to the Slovakian capital Bratislava in June. According to the German paper Bild, the trip lasted just 19 minutes.

Michael Jaeger, the secretary general of the Taxpayers’ Association of Europe (TAE), told the paper that von der Leyen’s brief flight was “an ecological sin.”

“It cost a lot of taxpayers’ money, a lot of time in going to and from airports, and above all – a lot of credibility,” Jaeger said.

The news came in the middle of a major UN climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, known as COP26, where over 100 nations pledged to slash methane emissions.

Traveling by air produces more CO2 emissions per passenger than traveling by train, bus or car. German MP Jana Schimke said von der Leyen, who has pushed for making Europe carbon neutral by 2050, should “exemplify” the fight against climate change. “Otherwise, you come off as untrustworthy.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission defended von der Leyen’s June trip by saying she had to travel through seven countries in two days. “Alternatives were examined, but logistically there was no other option.”

The spokesperson also cited concerns that flight and rail services were affected by Covid-19 containment measures.

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