Ageing populations and advances in the scope of medical care combine to create a situation in which chronic noncommunicable diseases are increasingly impacting on European health systems. Chronic noncommunicable diseases require a long-term perspective, not only in tackling their determinants and thus preventing them from occurring, but also in developing the often complex programmes needed to manage them, in which multidisciplinary teams intervene both simultaneously and consecutively. This necessitates a systematic and integrated approach. However, the way that different health systems engage in these efforts and where they place their priorities differs markedly. The European Union – in its role of encouraging exchange of information in support of public health – seeks to facilitate concerted action to optimize responses to the challenges of chronic noncommunicable diseases. This includes identifying innovative methods for cost-effective prevention of common risk factors, for developing coordinated patient-centred care, and for stimulating integrated research. A first step is to gather knowledge on how clinical guidelines for chronic noncommunicable disease prevention and treatment have been developed and implemented in different countries. To this end, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers asked the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies to prepare a report exploring the various national practices relating to clinical guidelines along with their impact on processes of care and patients’ outcomes.