Bruno Waterfield, Brussels
European Commission officials have been told they can evade freedom of information rules by keeping two sets of documents, a "whitened" text for public release and a "separate" classified version.
A leaked 15 page "vademecum" issued by the Commission's trade department to staff has been attacked by campaigners for encouraging officials "to conceal information from public scrutiny".
The internal document, leaked on the EUobserver website., read: "Each official must be aware that all his/her documents, including meeting reports and emails can potentially be disclosed. You should keep this in mind when writing such documents.
"This is particularly the case for meeting reports and emails with third parties (e.g. industry), which are favourite 'targets' of requests for access to documents."
The guidance also reminded officials: "Don't refer to the great lunch you have had with an industry representative privately or add a PS asking if he/she would like to meet for a drink."
To avoid disclosing embarrassing details to freedom of information requests, from journalists, industry or NGOs, the guidance gives tips on writing two accounts of meetings: a neutral one that can be released and a classified version.
"The best thing to do is to make two separate documents," states the advice. "By doing this, we avoid having to 'whiten' certain parts of the report, which creates an additional work burden."
"Avoid recording statements which may turn out to be politically embarrassing for those who have made them."
Peter Mandelson, the former European Union trade commissioner, and other officials are among those who have faced questions over meetings and links with industry.
In October last year, the commission refused to publish any details of meetings between Lord Mandelson and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose company Rusal had benefited from cuts to trade tariffs on imports
of aluminium into the EU.
Pia Eberhardt, a campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, said: "This is a scandalous attempt to reinforce DG Trade's repeated attempts to shield evidence of its liaisons with corporate lobbyists from information requests."
A European Commission spokesman said: "The allegations are totally unfounded."