The European Union has told Scottish ministers that they must go ahead with the process of putting Caledonian MacBrayne's ferry routes out to tender.
MSPs defeated the executive over the CalMac routes
Transport Minister Tavish Scott met the EU's transport commissioner, Jacques Barot, in Brussels on Monday.
The tendering process is currently on hold after MSPs defeated a Scottish Executive motion at Holyrood last year.
Mr Scott said he would consider MSPs' views and the EU's position before presenting his findings to parliament.
The executive was defeated by a single vote at Holyrood in December when MSPs considered a motion asking them to endorse the tendering of the west coast ferry routes.
That would have allowed private operators to bid to take over state-owned CalMac's Clyde and Western Isles services.
The then transport minister, Nicol Stephen, argued at the time that the executive had no alternative but to obey the European Commission's legislation.
The Holyrood vote left him with the task of persuading the European transport commissioner to exclude the services from the normal competition rules and leave them in CalMac's control.
Mr Scott took over the transport brief last month when Mr Stephen became enterprise minister after being elected as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader.
Opposition parties and unions are against putting the routes out to tender, with the RMT campaigning against such a move.
The union had also threatened to strike before receiving assurances over pay and conditions.
Mr Scott met Mr Barot on Monday to put forward the arguments against tendering for the contract.
He told BBC Scotland that he also presented evidence which had been given to Holyrood's transport committee.
"The commission understands the arguments about the west coast of Scotland and the need for the island communities to be properly serviced and served by CalMac," he said.
"But the commissioner himself set out a position as they see it in relation to the need for tendering."
Mr Scott said he would now reflect on what had been said at the meeting, along with any other submissions and evidence, before putting the matter before the parliament in September.
Scottish National Party MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) Angus MacNeil questioned what alternatives had been presented to the commission.
He said: "Many experts in Scotland have convincingly challenged the case for tendering, including the suggestion that it is required under EU rules.
"If this was a real minister representing Scotland as a member state he wouldn't have accepted sweet talk and sympathy but robustly challenged the commission."
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "It is not surprising that the European Union finds in favour of EU employment rules, but this is
against the popular feeling in Scotland and among the workers in CalMac."
A CalMac spokesman added: "We have been preparing for five years for the tendering process to begin and we will carry on preparing what we believe will be a successful bid.
"It appears the tendering competition will go ahead now and we welcome this clarity.
"We are keen to get on with this process as we feel we have been in limbo for the past five years."