Shock! Eurocrat abandons his limo

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The Independent Online
THE NEW head of one of the world's most lavish, bureaucratic and controversially extravagant organisations arrived in London to meet Tony Blair yesterday. You may have spotted him on the Gatwick Express to Victoria station.

European bureaucrats are normally seen in chauffeur- driven limousines bearing the flag of the EU. But Romano Prodi, the European President elect, set a record for abstemiousness when he flew on a scheduled flight to Gatwick, caught a train and then got in line to wait for a black cab to take him to Downing Street.

As taxis are not allowed to the front door of No 10, for security reasons, the former Prime Minister of Italy, appointed by the heads of the European governments to his pounds 158,000 a year post, made the last leg of his journey by foot.

Downing Street officials were "surprised but delighted" with the lack of pomp shown by Mr Prodi for his first official engagement in London. He was Mr Blair's nominee to clean up the European Commission after the revelations of lavish living and nepotism led to the resignation of Jacques Santer and his team.

His unprecedented fiscal restraint stood in contrast to that of the British Euro MP Pauline Green, who helped to bring down Santer. When she flies back to the UK from Brussels she is met at Heathrow by her chauffeur, who makes the same trip by road and Eurostar.

The European Commission in London was also surprised by Mr Prodi's visit. "He didn't make any arrangements for his visit through us. He is the president elect, and he didn't notify us ... We only have one car but we normally organise an appropriate car for commissioners in London."

Mr Prodi discussed with Mr Blair the reforms he intends to bring to the Commission, before retracing his journey on public transport to Gatwick for a flight to Bonn, leaving at least one cabbie with the rare chance to boast to his customers: "I had that Euro President in my cab the other day."