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The MARCO POLO Programme

Programme Type
Funding programme
European (European)
European Union
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)


Background & Policy context

In its White Paper - European Transport Policy for 2010: time to decide, the Commission proposed to take measures which should make the market shares of the modes of transport return, by 2010, to their 1998 levels. This will prepare the ground for a shift of balance from 2010 onwards.
One measure to achieve this objective is the establishment of the Marco Polo Programme with its adoption on 22 July 2003.
All segments of the international freight transport market are within the scope of the Programme.

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.

There are two Marco Polo programmes, the first covers the period 2003-2006, and the second covers the period 2007-2013. The second programme 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 also now eligible for funding
Strategic Objectives

The Programme's objective is to reduce road congestion and to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system within the Community and to enhance intermodality, thereby contributing to an efficient and sustainable transport system. To achieve this objective, the Programme supports actions in the freight transport, logistics and other relevant markets. These actions should contribute to maintain the distribution of freight between the various modes of transport at 1998 levels by helping to shift the expected aggregate increase in international road freight traffic of 12 billion tkm per year to short sea shipping, rail and inland waterways or to a combination of modes of transport in which road journeys are as short as possible.

The Marco Polo programme is described as a new approach to freight transport with the goals:

  • Utilise alternatives to road such as short sea shipping, railways and inland waterways
  • Support innovations that help overcome technical barriers to intermodal transport
  • Use motorways of the sea in combination with other modes of transport
  • Reduce the need for transporting goods by road via improved logistics
  • Address training and other ‘soft’ factors within the transport business
Programme organisation

Marco Polo intends to support commercial actions in the market for freight transport services. It is therefore different from the support given through research and development programmes and the Trans-European Network programme. Marco Polo will foster modal shift projects in all segments of the freight market, not only in combined transport. The funding areas of 2009 are: 

·         Modal shift actions focus on shifting as much freight as economically viable under current market conditions from road to short sea shipping, rail and inland waterways. This may be done by introducing new services or significantly enhancing existing services.

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

·         Motorways of the sea actions offer 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.

·         Traffic avoidance actions integrate transport into production logistics so as to reduce 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 or workforce.

·         Common learning actions enhance knowledge in the freight logistics sector and foster a


Institution Type
Institution Name
European Commission, DG TREN
Type of funding
Public (EU)
Programme funding arrangements and funding conditions

The first programme runs from 2003 to 2006, with a budget of 75 million Euros for the EU 15. The second programme runs from 2007 to 2013 and has a higher budget of 450 million Euros. Over 100 projects were funded over the period 2003-2008, and the projects selected under 2007 and 2008 calls were awarded 17 million Euros.

Only projects concerning freight transport services were supported by the first Marco Polo programme. Infrastructure projects, RTD and study projects were not eligible for support. The second programme now includes "motorways of the sea" and "traffic avoidance" projects.

Only commercial undertakings (possibly owned by public administrations) from the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Croatia can apply. Usually, the project must involve at least two partner organisations from two eligible countries. One-applicant projects are an exception.
Pure infrastructure projects, research & development projects and studies are not eligible.


Participating countries
EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Croatia.

Projects covered

No projects covered for this programme.


MARCO POLO Help Desk: Unit Intermodality and Logistics

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