TALLINN — Progress in Brexit negotiations may be slow, but at least EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has seen quite a bit of Europe since he took over the position on October 1, 2016.
As of August 11, Barnier had traveled 59 times in his capacity as Brexit negotiator, meeting with people all over the Continent, according to European Commission records.
“Since the beginning of his mandate, Michel Barnier, chief negotiator, had 59 missions for which the travel expenses amounted to 47, 417.60 euros,” wrote Barnier’s deputy Sabine Weyand to a U.K. resident Thursday, in a response obtained by POLITICO to a freedom of information request submitted on August 11. That is an average expense of €800 per trip.
“The missions mainly included the EU member states and also Norway and Geneva in order to prepare and discuss the negotiations with the heads of state or government, ministers, national and European parliamentarians, stakeholders, social partners and international organizations,” the letter said.
The letter makes clear Barnier engaged in a travel-intense charm offensive long before the British government decided to do so.
And while Barnier’s travel schedule might seem burdensome — at a pace of nearly six trips a month — criss-crossing Europe to meet well-placed colleagues is not necessarily an imposition on a man believed to harbor ambitions to run for Commission president. Barnier ran for the post in 2014 and is often mentioned as a potential successor to Jean-Claude Juncker in 2019.
The Commission’s disclosure of Barnier’s travel and meeting expenses, in response to a citizen’s freedom of information request, is consistent with the EU’s pledge to conduct the Brexit process in a transparent fashion, though not all of Barnier’s meetings have been published in his official calendar, nor are details provided about every event despite intense media interest.
The Commission pays the costs of Barnier’s travels out of the EU budget, a spokeswoman told POLITICO, as it does for other internal expenses such as the salaries of Barnier’s team and for drinks when he invites people out in Brussels. “As part of his mandate, he held a number of official meetings in Brussels, for which the representation costs amounted to 2,310 euros,” Weyand wrote.
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