The European Commission officially launched the new Marco Polo Programme on Monday 4 February 2002. The programme will provide EU funding for projects that would shift the increase in international freight transport from congested roads to short sea shipping, rail, and inland waterway services.
The new Marco Polo programme will provide Community funding for international transport solutions, which offer a viable alternative to road freight transport. The programme should be operational by 2003 and run until 2010. For the 5 year period from 2003-2007, the programme will have an overall budget of 115 million euro. Marco Polo will also support actions in the EU’s candidate countries.
TheInternational Union of combined Road-Rail transport companies (IURR)welcomed the Commission's new programme. Reacting to the White Paper, IURR stated that Marco Polo will be necessary in a transitional period to "help to develop services and to avoid that other ones disappear from the market before a harmonised and fair framework for all transport modes allows the companies to take more initiatives..."
On the other hand, theSwedish International Freight Associationbelieves that the Marco Polo programme "is the wrong way to address the difficulties of rail. Besides the fact that subsidies distort the market, the problem of rail transport is political and administrative".
In its White Paper on the future of EU transport policy, the Commission has announced its ambition to achieve a shift in transport from the road to more environmentally friendly modes such as rail and waterways. One of the instruments at its disposal would be a new programme, extending the scope of the PACT (Pilot Action for Combined Transport) programme introduced in 1992, which came to an end on 31 December 2001.
The Commission expects that its proposal can be adopted as a Parliament and Council Regulation by 2003.