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The Marco Polo

Marco Polo is the European Union's funding programme for projects which shift freight transport from the road to sea, rail and inland waterways.

This means fewer trucks on the road and thus less congestion, less pollution, and more reliable and efficient transport of goods

The current, second Marco Polo programme runs from 2007-13 and features:

- more money: the programme budget is 450 million Euros

- more themes: this programme includes "motorways of the sea" and "traffic avoidance" projects

- more countries: Countries bordering the EU are now eligible for funding if they signed an association agreement

Marco Polo is managed by the European Commission's Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation.

Funding areas 2008

- Modal shift actions, which focus on shifting as much freight as economically meaningful under current market conditions from road to short sea shipping, rail and inland waterways. They may be proposing start-up of new services or significantly enhance existing services

- Catalyst actions change the way non-road freight transport is conducted in the Community. Under this type of action, structural market barriers in European freight transport are overcome through a highly innovative concept: causing a real break-through

- Motorways of the sea actions achieving a door-to-door service, which shift freight from long road distances to a combination of short sea shipping and other modes of transport. Actions of this kind are innovative at a European level in terms of logistics, equipment, products and services rendered

- Traffic avoidance actions integrate transport into production logistics: reducing freight transport demand by road with a direct impact on emissions. Actions of this type shall be innovative and shall not adversely affect production output and production workforce

Common learning actions enhance knowledge in the freight logistics sector and foster advanced methods and procedures of co-operation in the freight market. Under this type of action, improvement of co-operation and sharing of know-how is encouraged.


The Marco Polo II

Road freight transport is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, which are a major contributor to CO2 production. It is also plagued by the problem of infrastructure congestion. Against this background, more widespread use of intermodality is needed to help to achieve improved utilisation of existing resources by incorporating short sea shipping and rail and river transport into the logistics chain. The Marco Polo II programme (2007-2013) is designed to shift freight from the road to other, more environmentally friendly means. ACT

Regulation (EC) No 1692/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 2006 establishing the second Marco Polo programme for the granting of Community financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system (Marco Polo II) and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1382/2003 [See amending act].


The Marco Polo II programme pursues the same objectives as the first Marco Polo programme. It is designed to reduce congestion and improve the environmental performance of the intermodal transport system, thereby contributing to an efficient and sustainable transport system which provides European Union (EU) added value without having a negative impact on economic, social or territorial cohesion. However, Marco Polo II includes some new features.

The Marco Polo II programme provides for wider geographical coverage. It covers actions involving the territory of at least two EU countries or the territory of at least one EU country and the territory of a close non-EU country.

The following actions are eligible:

catalyst actions:

actions aimed at overcoming significant structural barriers in the EU freight transport market which impede the efficient functioning of the markets, the competitiveness of short sea shipping, rail or inland waterway transport, and/or the efficiency of transport chains which make use of these modes. They are aimed at improving synergies in the rail, inland waterway and short sea shipping sectors, including motorways of the sea, by making better use of existing infrastructure; modal shift actions: (actions aimed at shifting freight from road to short sea shipping, rail, inland waterways or a combination of modes of transport. The objective is to keep road journeys as short as possible;

common learning actions:

(actions aimed at improving cooperation for structurally optimising working methods and procedures in the freight transport chain, taking the requirements of logistics into account;

motorways of the sea:

an idea introduced by the 2001 White Paper on European transport policy. Motorways of the sea are aimed at directly shifting a proportion of freight from road to short sea shipping or a combination of short sea shipping and other modes of transport in which road journeys are as short as possible. For example, motorways of the sea could be established between France and Spain to eliminate the road traffic bottleneck in the Pyrenees;

traffic avoidance actions:

any innovative action aimed at integrating transport into the production logistics of businesses to avoid a large percentage of freight transport by road without adversely affecting production output or workforce capability.

The Commission is also examining the possibility of supporting the creation or modification of ancillary infrastructure which is required and appropriate for the successful completion of projects.

Actions must be submitted by undertakings or consortia established in EU countries or participating countries, which includes candidate countries for EU accession and EFTA, EEA and close non-EU countries subject to certain conditions. Undertakings established outside of the participating countries above may be associated with a project, but may not receive EU funding under the programme. Aid for the launch of actions must be transparent, objective and clearly delimited. EU financial assistance is based on the number of tonne-kilometres transferred from the road to other means of sea or land transport or the number of vehicle-kilometres of road freight avoided. The objective is to reward high-quality projects. Distortions of competition must be avoided in the selection procedure.

The programme pays special attention to sensitive and metropolitan areas. The Commission evaluates the actions submitted, taking account of their contribution to reducing road congestion, but also their relative environmental merits and their overall sustainability. The EU financial assistance for the various actions is limited to a maximum of 35 % of the total expenditure necessary to achieve the objectives of the action and incurred as a result of it. In the case of common learning actions, the ceiling is 50 %. The Marco Polo II programme has a wider scope than its predecessor and a larger budget of EUR 400 million. The Commission must present an evaluation report on the results of the Marco Polo I programme for the period 2003 to 2006 by 30 June 2007.


The Marco Polo II programme, which covers the period 2007 to 2013, is an extended version of the initial programme set up in 2003, which was oversubscribed and inadequately funded: in the four selection procedures for the first Marco Polo programme the Commission received proposals covering a level of assistance of EUR 468 million but only had a budget of EUR 100 million.

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