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THE RESIGNATION last week of the European Commission's 20-member executive poses legal problems for the European Parliament and could delay key areas of EC work, lawyers have warned.
A new legal structure for EC regional aid, due to be unveiled this year, is expected to be held back. Worryingly, for the corporate sector, merger rulings by the competition directorate could also be affected.
"All sorts of immediate legal problems may arise," says barrister Conor Quigley at Brick Court Chambers' Brussels office.
A major problem is that no one is sure how the appointment of new commissioners should be handled.
Countries can appoint their own commissioners when they resign individually, and the Parliament has a mechanism for replacing them all if they are collectively dismissed by parliamentary censure, but the issue of collective resignation is not specifically addressed in the Treaty of Rome rules, says Quigley.
As elections to the European Parliament in June will delay matters, Quigley says: "It means we won't have new commissioners in place until September."
Until then, the current commissioners will stay in their posts, which some observers believe will temporarily disable the EC's political decision-making ability. "The situation is likely to slow down the EC's internal legislative programme, which focuses particularly on competition matters and the Agenda 2000 regional aid plan," says Quigley.
"If the current competition commissioner is to be replaced, that will also lead to delays in competition rulings," he adds.