Council sets financial framework for Marco Polo programme

On 6 December, the Transport Council reached a political agreement on the Marco Polo programme, a financing instrument aimed at encouraging the modal shift in freight transport.

On 6 December 2002, the Council agreed on a budget of 75 million euro for a four-year period running from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2006. This falls short of the sum of 85 million euro, described by Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio as the “absolute minimum” if the programme is to produce the results anticipated.

Minimum subsidy thresholds for the various categories of action have not yet been set.

While the programme is to start officially on 1 January 2003, a 2 million budget has been offerd for specific pilot actions already in 2002. The Commission is starting contract negotiations with the leaders of two shipping projects and one rail project to finanlise the contracts before the end of this year.


The goal of the Marco Polo programme is to help stabilise the balance between modes of transport at 1998 levels by 2010, as layed down in the Commission's White Paper on transport. This means that the expected growth in road freight (about 12 billion tonne-kilometres per year) needs to be shifted to other modes of transport, such as short-sea shipping, rail and inland waterways.

The programme is based on the experience gained under the PACT initiative (Pilot Actions for Combined Transport) that ran from 1997 to 2001. It consists of three types of actions: modal shift actions, catalyst actions and common learning actions.

In its draft regulation of 4 February 2002, the Commission proposed a financial framework for the programme of 115 milion euro for a five-year period running from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2007. The European Parliament did not change the overall framework, but took the view that funding beyond 2006 should be subject to the approval of the budgetary authority. It also proposed lower thresholds for the financing of the specific actions to facilitate participation of SMEs in the programme.


The Council's common position will be finalised and sent to the Parliament for a second reading.

The Marco Polo programme should be fully operational from 2003. By 31 December 2005 at the latest, the Commission has to present an assessment report on the results of the programme.


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