The European Commission plans to take measures to assist the European maritime industry regain its competitive edge, including providing fiscal aid, Loyola de Palacio, the vice president of the EU executive body, said yesterday. Addressing a congress held in conjunction with the international shipping exhibition Posidonia 2002, de Palacio said the Commission will «push for the adoption of measures enabling its operators to withstand international competition in the safest and most sustainable way.» She said help from Brussels is necessary as European shipowners have to contend with global competition at the same time as they are bound by strict regulations relating to taxation and seamen’s social security. De Palacio said the Commission is currently reviewing the state aid guidelines as part of a strategy to help shipowners modernize their fleet, keep their operating costs down and maintain safe employment conditions for sailors. Such «quality-minded shipowners» are crucial to the EU’s goal of «safe and clean seas,» she said. Strategic management of shipping, she added, is also «essential to both securing a strong European-flagged fleet and supporting the EU maritime industry.» De Palacio also called for shipping markets in and outside European waters to be deregulated, which would create a level playing field. She said Brussels is prepared to use its full political and economic weight for this purpose, including applying for International Maritime Organization membership. Greece is set to open up its island routes in November, ending a 10-year derogation. She added that the Commission aims to promote short sea transport services in the EU in the next decade as an alternative to congested roads. India, a major client over the years, sealed a contract with Bulgaria «worth tens of millions of dollars» earlier this year and was also eying new deals, Keremedchiev said. He said Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait were also interested.