A representative sample of 130 European traditional maize populations was analysed for both their morphological and molecular variation. The morphological analysis of 19 variables revealed a significant variability. Correlation analysis allowed us to distinguish between traits affected by earliness (plant and ear height) and structural traits (plant architecture, grain structure). Two main morphological types could be distinguished. Molecular analyses were performed for 29 RFLP loci on DNA bulks. The number of alleles detected was high when compared to previous studies (9.59 alleles per locus). Genetic diversity was also high (0.55), with a strong differentiation between populations (GST value of 35.6%). A clear relationship between the genetic diversity of the populations and their agronomic performances was highlighted. Morphological and molecular distances showed a tendency towards a triangular relationship. We therefore considered a two-phase process to be the most efficient approach for the classification of genetic resources: firstly, a molecular study to define groups of genetically close populations, and secondly a morphological description of populations from each group. In our European collection, this approach allowed us to separate the populations from Northern and Southern Europe and to define six groups of genetically close populations, comparable to European races. This study opens new prospects concerning the molecular analysis of very large collections of genetic resources, hitherto limited by the necessity of individual analyses, and proposes a first molecular classification of European maize germplasm.