Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a smoking-related, progressive lung disease that represents a substantial individual, societal and economic burden. Primary care professionals have an important role in healthcare provision for patients with COPD. In this position paper we summarise the current knowledge about, and management of patients with COPD. Next, we describe the role general practitioners and other primary care disciplines (should) have to prevent, diagnose and treat COPD. Finally, we explore differences in the way particular aspects of primary care COPD disease management are available or organised in a number of European countries, in order to identify barriers and provide examples of 'best practices' for optimal primary care management of patients with COPD.