A questionnaire survey was conducted by the Epidemiology Working Group of the European Cervical Cancer Screening Network, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, between August and December 2003 in 35 centres in 20 European countries with reliable cervical cancer incidence and/or mortality data in databanks held at IARC and WHO. The questionnaire was completed by 28 centres from 20 countries. The final tables included information on 25 centres from 18 countries. Six countries had started screening in the 1960s, whereas 10 countries or regions had started at least a pilot programme by 2003. There were six invitational and nine partially invitational programmes, the rest employing opportunistic screening only. Recommended lifetime number of smears varied from seven to more than 50. Coverage of smear test within the recommended screening interval (usually 3 or 5 years) was above 80% in three countries. Screening registration took place in 13 programmes. Eight programmes reported the rates of screen-detected cervical cancers and precursor lesions. There was wide variation in the CIN3 detection rates. International guidelines and quality assurance protocols are useful for monitoring and evaluating screening programmes systematically. Our survey indicated that the recommendations as currently given are met in only few European countries. Health authorities need to consider stronger measures and incentives than those laid out in the current set of recommendations.