By Laurence Peter
Porsche and other car firms have lobbied the EU over CO2 emissions
The EU's institutional watchdog has castigated the European Commission in a dispute over access to three letters from the German carmaker Porsche AG.
The European Ombudsman said the Commission - the EU's executive arm - had displayed an "unco-operative attitude" that risked damaging trust.
The Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, sent a report to the European Parliament, detailing his complaint.
The Commission says Porsche is now ready to release parts of the letters.
Porsche sent the letters to former Commission Vice-President Guenter Verheugen during an EU consultation in 2006 about proposals to reduce CO2 emissions from cars.
The Ombudsman says 15 months have elapsed since he called on the Commission to release the letters' contents. The nature of the contents is not yet clear.
The request to see the letters had come originally from the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe. The group went to the Ombudsman after the Commission had denied it access to the letters.
In his report, dated 24 February, the Ombudsman said the need to allow Porsche to exercise its legal rights "cannot justify the Commission's extraordinary delay". He accused the Commission of "maladministration".
The Ombudsman wants MEPs to put pressure on the Commission
"The Ombudsman concludes with great regret that, by delaying for 15 months its reply to his draft recommendation and by failing to implement its undertaking to notify Porsche AG of its intention to disclose, the Commission infringed its obligation to co-operate with him sincerely and in good faith.
"The Ombudsman emphasises that the Commission's attitude is detrimental not only to inter-institutional dialogue, but also to the public image of the EU," the report said.
It calls on the European Parliament to help "ensure that the Commission will respect the duty of sincere co-operation with the Ombudsman in the future".
The spokesman for the Commission's administration, Michael Mann, says the Commission wrote to Porsche on 18 February, "telling them that we are going to partially release the contents of the three disputed letters".
On Friday he told the BBC that Porsche "has agreed to partially release" the letters. Porsche's move appears to have averted a court case.
"It was the complaint by the Ombudsman that encouraged us to reopen the case with Porsche," Mr Mann said.
Asked about the delay highlighted by the Ombudsman, he said "we have to balance the need for transparency with the need to consider the legitimate interests of the third party". Parts of the letters were "commercially sensitive," he said.
"If we were overcautious we'll draw lessons for the next time such a thing happens," he added.