Former PM Charles Michel under fire for 'excessive' travel expenses

Former PM Charles Michel under fire for 'excessive' travel expenses
Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Former Belgian Prime Minister and current President of the European Council Charles Michel faces growing backlash over his "excessive" travel expenses, after EU budgetary officials asked for a 27.5% budget increase for his office from 2023 to 2024.

The proposed hike, revealed last month by Politico, would mean that the office of the President would see its budget rise from €2 million to €2.6 million in 2024. Travel costs alone would climb to €1.985 million — more than a third higher than in 2023.

Michel's growing expenses are primarily down to his use of travelling by private jet: from the start of his term as Council President in 2019 and December 2022 Michel travelled by private jet on 72 out of a total of 112 foreign missions. Notably, these included trips to the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh last November and to the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021.

As Le Monde points out, Michel's proposed budget far exceeds that of his predecessors Herman Van Rompuy (2010-2014) and Donald Tusk (2014-2019), neither of whose annual travel expenses surpassed €500,000.

Desperate times, desperate measures?

EU budgetary officials justified Michel's expensive travel bill by framing it in light of "intense international activity following the war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine". A spokesperson for the Council President said that Michel "must explain to third countries our sanctions against Moscow and fight against Putin's narrative that we are responsible for inflation".

Speaking to Le Soir, a spokesperson for Michel's office added that the Council President was not involved in the budgetary proposal. He hit back at accusations of "lavish expenditure".

Nevertheless, numerous EU diplomats have expressed their displeasure with Michel's office's proposed budget hike: "This budget is for 2024, which is still a long way out," one unnamed EU diplomat told Politico. "At that point, can you still argue that a massive increase of Michel's travel budget is caused by Russia's aggression in Ukraine?"

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"When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports confirm the extreme climate emergency, it is not normal to continue travelling by private jet," said Belgian MEP Saskia Bricmont (Greens/EFA). "I don't even understand how, at this level, Michel does not ask himself this question." Bricmont demanded that the Council President have his travel budget limited and called for his office to set a better example.

The budget proposal is set to be discussed in a European Parliament plenary session in May. It is highly likely that Michel will be questioned by MEPs about the proposed expenses hike then.

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