GIBRALTARIAN company lawyers are bracing themselves for an enforced change in the regulations governing the disclosure of accounts. The move threatens the territory's status as an offshore centre.
There are almost as many operating companies registered in the colony as there are people - 31,000 - and the financial sector is Gibraltar's lifeblood. At one time, it was heavily dependent on British defence spending.
The European Commission has started proceedings that could lead to the European Court of Justice ordering the territory to adopt European Union (EU) financial directives.
Gibraltar is yet to adopt EU-wide rules concerning companies' annual and consolidated accounts. These rules impose tough new requirements to disclose accounts. They also define which types of company have to produce accounts, establish formats for profit and loss accounts and balance sheets, and lay down which valuation principles should be applied.
Claire Kelly of the Gibraltar Department of Trade and Industry's finance centre says: "The directives will have to be implemented, but we're not sure when.
"It will affect our bread and butter: company management. We're not going to be attractive as an offshore centre as we were."
Brussels has told the UK Government - which is responsible for Gibraltar's foreign affairs - that the Commission has discovered a breach of EU law. The UK has been given two months to find a solution.
If no satisfactory reply is given, Brussels may take the UK to the European Court of Justice, which has the power to order it to make changes.
Gibraltar has spectacularly missed implementation deadlines. The fourth directive was due to be implemented by 31 July 1980, the seventh by 31 December 1987 and the two amending directives by 1 January 1993.