News | Tuesday, 17 December 2008

Marco Polo: Fresh air for European freight transport

Europe’s road network suffers from ever-increasing congestion, increasing the time lost by road-users and worsening environmental pollution. Long-distance freight, particularly international freight traffic between Member States and between the EU and third countries, is a major contributor to this congestion.
Europe’s road system has borne the brunt of increasing freight traffic mainly because of the failure of alternative modes – rail and shipping – to keep pace with rising demand and to contribute to an integrated transport solution.
What Europe really needs – and is working towards – is a sustainable transport system that shifts freight off the roads onto more environmentally friendly transport modes.
The Marco Polo programme, an initiative of the European Union, was launched in 2003. Today, we are at the second edition of the programme which covers the period from 2006 to 2013. It aims to shift or avoid a substantial part of the expected increase in international freight traffic, estimated at 20 billion tonne-kilometres per year, from Europe’s roads onto short-sea shipping, rail and inland waterway transport.
Indisputably, lorries are often the preferred means of transporting freight for first and final legs of deliveries. But they are costly – both in economic and environmental terms – over long distances. Within the context of the Commission’s 2001 White Paper on transport and its 2006 mid-term review, the Marco Polo programme seeks to reduce road congestion by shifting or avoiding the yearly increases in international freight traffic from roads onto short-sea shipping, rail and inland waterway transport.
Launched in December 2006, with a budget of €450 million for the period 2007/2013 (participation of third countries bring an increase in the budget), the second Marco Polo programme, as its predecessor, contributes to an efficient and sustainable transport system by backing commercial undertakings which set up intermodal – rail, sea and road – freight transport services.
Support goes to firms to enable them to offer more environmentally sustainable services in international freight transport markets. The emphasis is on services, as Marco Polo does not support research projects or the development of core infrastructure.
Marco Polo support may be given for three main types of actions: Modal shift actions: to provide aid to start up services. Projects should be robust, but not necessarily innovative: aiming simply to shift freight off roads; Catalyst actions: aim to overcome structural barriers in the market. Projects should be highly innovative, aiming to achieve a real breakthrough and aim to improve cooperation and sharing of know-how. Objective is mutual training to help cope with an increasingly complex transport and logistics market; Traffic avoidance actions: aim to integrate transport into production logistics to avoid a large percentage of freight transport by road.

Who can participate?
Marco Polo support is open to commercial undertakings only.
Participants may come from EU Member States, or ‘close third countries’. These are EEA and EFTA members, candidate countries for EU accession, and Mediterranean partner States.
Funding from the EU budget is available to participants from EU Member States. In addition, participants from candidate countries and from EEA and EFTA members may also receive EU funding where specific agreements are in place.
Projects must demonstrate a European dimension to be eligible for support. They should cover an international route, involving EU territory and that of ‘close third countries’.

Key points for applicants

Proposals can only be submitted in response to an annual call published in the EU’s Official Journal. The Marco Polo website gives indicative dates for forthcoming calls and full information.

Routes used for calculating subsidy
Subsidy calculations are always based on the route the truck would have taken, if the freight had not been shifted to an alternative mode of transport (ship, rail or a combination of ship and rail).

Participation and funding
While commercial undertakings from both EU Member States and ‘close third countries’ are eligible to participate, only costs arising on the territory of EU Member States or countries which have concluded specific agreements with the EU are eligible for Marco Polo funding. Therefore, in calculating the subsidy for each project, only the parts of the route in countries eligible for funding can be used. This also applies in calculating the environmental benefit of the modal shift. Each call will specify the eligible countries.

Projects eligible for support
Only projects concerning freight transport services may be supported by the Marco Polo programme. Infrastructure projects, RTD and study projects are not eligible for support.
Participation by public authorities
Only commercial undertakings are eligible to participate, but administrations may be up to 100 % owners of participating commercial undertakings.

Legal basis of Marco Polo
The main legal basis of the second Marco Polo programme is Regulation (EC) No 1692/2006, of 24 October 2006. The text is also available on the Marco Polo website:



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17 December 2008

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