Social Policy Minister John Dalli has emerged as the clear favourite to be Malta's next EU Commissioner though it is not yet clear if he will accept the post, The Sunday Times has learnt.

When contacted last night, Mr Dalli said: "It depends on a number of factors, but the situation is still fluid. We still have to see what's going to happen. At this stage I cannot comment one way or the other. I'd better not comment."

Mr Dalli refused to say whether Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had offered him the prestigious post in Brussels, which comes with a €220,000 annual salary, plus many other perks and a healthy pension. Should Mr Dalli assume the post, it could prompt a Cabinet reshuffle.

If he does not take the post, it is likely that incumbent Commissioner Joe Borg will serve a second term. Malta's Permanent Representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana has also been on the Prime Minister's shortlist.

The timing of the decision to nominate a Commissioner, usually taken by heads of government, is important since it is the European Commission President who determines the portfolios of the new Commission.

A late decision by member states may result in a Commissioner being assigned a less important portfolio than others. The majority of the 27 member states have already announced their candidate for the prestigious EU post.

Some of the current members of the Commission will be reappointed.

An informal meeting of heads of state or government to deal with nominations under the Lisbon Treaty will be held by the Swedish Presidency on Thursday.

Mr Dalli was first elected to Parliament in 1987 and since then he has been re-elected in five successive elections. During his tenure as Finance Minister, Mr Dalli modernised the taxation system through the introduction of VAT in 1994 and again in 1998.

Mr Dalli had contested the Nationalist Party leadership in 2004 when Eddie Fenech Adami vacated the post.

After losing the battle to Dr Gonzi, he was forced to resign from the government ranks over a number of allegations.

He was appointed adviser to the Prime Minister in November 2007 before assuming a Cabinet post once again after the 2008 general election.

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