Prospective Labour MEP Joseph Cuschieri faces a minimum two year wait to take up his new seat in the European Parliament even though the Lisbon Treaty enters into force on December 1.

Although the European Parliament last week started preparations to allow 18 new MEPs from 12 member states to join its ranks as a result of additional seats negotiated through the Lisbon Treaty, it is still not clear when they can take up their new posts.

A spokesman for the EP told The Sunday Times: "Although the Lisbon Treaty hurdle is now over we will still need new legal instruments in place so that we can admit the new MEPs.

"The additional MEP's can only take up their new duties once a further new protocol is ratified by all the 27 member states. We are not at that point yet and we have just begun the process to have the new legal instrument approved by the EP chamber.

"It is too early to state how this protocol is to be approved by the 27 member states and more importantly, when."

During the Lisbon Treaty negotiations, Malta negotiated an additional seat in the EP chamber to add its five. This would put Malta on an equal footing with other small member states like Luxembourg.

Following last June's EP elections it was decided that the runner up to the first five elected MEPs would automatically qualify for Malta's extra new seat when it becomes available.

According to EP sources, MEPs are currently discussing how best to proceed. The parliament's Constitutional Committee has approved an amendment so the 18 new MEPs can at least be invited to join as observers for the time being. These amendments are expected to be approved by the EP in two weeks' time.

Observers will not have the right to vote though they can participate in all the workings of the European Parliament, including attending committees.

However, they will not be entitled to a salary out of EU funds and will only receive allowances for expenses.

This will effectively mean that Malta will remain with its current five MEPs at least until 2011 when the new protocol is expected to be ratified.

"The intention is that the protocol is included with the new accession treaty of Croatia, to be approved probably by the end of 2011. However, no precise timing has been set and this might even take longer," the EP official said.

Some member states, particularly Spain, which should gain an additional four seats, are insisting on a speedy approval of this protocol.

However, other member states - particularly those that do not stand to gain additional seats - are in no hurry.

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