The president of the European Commission has been forced to defend himself against allegations of hypocrisy for owning a fuel-slurping SUV while his organisation proposes CO2 emissions limits some car makers say would put them out of business.

According to the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper, José Manuel Barroso, who owns a Volkswagen Touareg, said: “I have never spoken of myself as an example to anybody – today’s moralistic approach is not mine.”

The paper noted that the president’s German-built SUV emits high levels of CO2, up to 356 grams per kilometre, well above the 130g limit Brussels is seeking to impose on the car industry by 2012.

Barroso reportedly insisted that fighting climate change was about “collective action” and voiced concern that a focus on an individual’s CO2 usage could be a “slippery slope”.

“If we start now creating the idea that for every person we establish a certificate of good behaviour there is a risk that tomorrow it is not only ecological behaviour, it is family behaviour, sexual behaviour,” he said, according to the Telegraph. He added: “I do not believe that is the kind of society that we want. We have to respect the freedom of individuals, of families.”

The Daily Telegraph noted that Barroso’s views seem to clash with calls from David Miliband, the UK’s environment secretary (minister), that carbon allowances for individual cars should be set at the EU level.

The paper said the commission’s car fleet of 85 vehicles, with average emissions of more than 258g per km, have led to accusations of bad faith.

Günter Verheugen, the German industry commissioner, has cautioned against “hysterical action” to cut CO2 vehicle emissions that could damage jobs in his country’s car manufacturing sector, the report added.

The Telegraph said Verheugen, who cannot drive, uses an official commission car, a BMW 730 diesel, which runs at around 230 g/km.

Peter Mandelson, the British trade commissioner in Brussells, does not own a private car but uses an official, fuel-thirsty Jaguar, the paper reported.

The Telegraph said that only Stavros Dimas, the Greek environment commissioner, “wears his heart on his sleeve” – he privately owns and drives a Honda Jazz (Fit) which emits an environment-friendly 129 g/km to 137 g/km.

The Daily Telegraph revelations of what some of Europe’s leaders drive came as they met in Brussels to set binding CO2 reduction targets for the European Union as a whole.

In the paper’s home city of London, deputy prime minister John Prescott is popularly known as ‘Two Jags’ for obvious reasons while prime minister Tony Blair is driven about in an armoured Rover 75 closely shadowed by security staff in large SUVs such as Range Rovers.

Few government ministers offered the choice between a Toyota Prius and a Jaguar have taken the low-CO2 emissions option.

Most bizarrely of all, David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative party and would-be prime minister, has flown by chartered jet to inspect arctic environment conditions for himself and has also posed for ‘photo opportunities’ bicycling to work – with the chauffeur-driven Rover 75 carrying his briefcase idling along behind him ‘out of frame’.