The EU-backed Marco Polo programme, which subsidises non-road transport modes, has attracted significant interest from Irish companies in the freight transport, maritime and logistics sector. Through the grant scheme, which closed on 10th December 2003, Irish companies had the opportunity to avail of European funds for the development of new short sea shipping services. If successful, a number of the Irish submissions could potentially increase direct trade with mainland Europe, introduce more environmentally efficient sea freight services and reduce congestion on Irish and UK and European roadways. Grant-aid is available for new services in the non-road freight market to a maximum of 30 per cent.
The objective of the Marco Polo programme is to contribute to shifting the annual increase of international road freight to short sea shipping, rail and inland waterways. This means a 12 billion tonne km shift per year. The Commission has earmarked a programme budget of €75m for the EU 15 over the next 4 years. Funding under the scheme is provided for three different types of actions - Modal Shift, Catalyst and Common Learning.
The Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) has assisted 10 Marco Polo proposals to date, seven of which have been submitted under the first call. The proposals comprise a mixture of projects under both the Common Learning and Modal shift categories of actions.
The proposals come from a range of organisations including port authorities, academic institutions, IT suppliers and ro-ro and lo-lo operators. The modal shift proposals involve the development of new intermodal routes linking Ireland directly to Europe and the concept of reducing traffic using the UK landbridge was a common theme. The common learning actions include networking and training projects on a pan-European basis.
The outcome of the current batch of Irish applications will be decided during the first quarter of 2004, with notifications of funding awards expected from the end of April 2004.
The results of the 1st call are expected from the commission in early 2004. There will be a second call next year.