"We have an agreement to introduce voluntary contributions on air tickets," Juncker told reporters on Saturday after chairing a meeting of the 25 ministers to discuss a range of options for financing extra assistance for the world's poorest nations.

   

He gave no details of how the scheme would operate, saying experts would work this out and the executive European Commission would propose a formal decision for ministers at their 7 June meeting.

 

But Austria immediately denounced the idea as a burden on consumers and a distortion of competition and said it would not take part in such a scheme.

   

An EU official said the scheme would be completely voluntary for member states, airlines and travellers. People purchasing a ticket in participating countries would be asked whether they agreed to contribute a small extra sum for development aid.

 

No figure or rate for the levy was discussed.

 

No consensus

 

Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, however, told reporters that the ministers were not united either on an air ticket tax or a possible tax on jet fuel, which they also discussed.

 

"We are so far away from a consensus"

Austrian Finance Minister
Karl-Heinz Grasser

"We are so far away from a consensus. Obviously the Commission will present a proposal at the next Ecofin meeting, so it could be a coalition of some countries. We will not take part," he said.

 

"If you have 10 countries that tax our consumers, this is the most easy way for consumers to pay more. This is a distortion of competition on the one hand and increases taxes for the consumer," Grasser said, adding: "We are far away from a

consensus on kerosene tax."

 

The ministers were debating a variety of possibilities to achieve the agreed United Nations target of raising development aid to 0.7% of gross national income by 2015.