This article presents a comparative analysis of the evolution of national research policies during the past three decades in six European countries (Austria, Italy, France, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland), with a special focus on the changes of public project funding schemes. It systematically uses indicators on the volume of funding attributed by each instrument and agency, which have been developed in a project of the European network of excellence PRIME. A common model is identified in these countries, where project funding is the second main channel of public funding of research, but also there are considerable variations among them in the share of instruments and agencies, and in beneficiaries. There are three interesting commonalities: a strong increase of project funding volumes; a differentiation of instruments; and a general shift towards instruments oriented to thematic priorities. They also show that individual countries appear to follow quite distinct paths in the organisation setting of funding agencies, and that national differences in funding portfolios persist through time.