EU considering subsidies for unprofitable island routes

European Union Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis he will be personally involved in efforts for the subsidization of Greek island routes which ferry operators find unprofitable to serve, sources said. The two men met on Sunday at Athens Airport, where Barrot made a stopover on his way to Cyprus. The same sources said the commissioner also promised to try to expedite consideration of the issue of the modernization of ferries’ hospitality facilities, which the Greek government has raised with the Commission. Barrot was also said to have shown particular interest in the modernization of the country’s ports and the utilization of the 3-billion-euro loan which the European Investment Bank will grant for this purpose. According to the same sources, Barrot viewed in a positive light the government’s recently announced plans for the deregulation of services at a number of ports, on condition that at least three companies operate from them or there is a large volume of passengers and vehicles. He noted that deregulation, wherever it was applied, made a significant contribution to bringing fares down and upgrading services. The commissioner was also said to have commended Greek policy on the issue of sea routes for the transportation of goods through Greece to Asia and Africa, in the context of a recent agreement with Italy, Cyprus and Malta. Kefaloyiannis, on his part, said the European Union had to undertake initiatives to improve the image of European shipping, which has been dented as a result of serious tanker accidents in recent years, and raised the issue of improving cooperation between the EU and the International Maritime Organization.