1. The European Water Framework Directive requires the determination of ecological status in European fresh and saline waters. This is to be through the establishment of a typology of surface water bodies, the determination of reference (high status) conditions in each element (ecotype) of the typology and of lower grades of status (good, moderate, poor and bad) for each ecotype. It then requires classification of the status of the water bodies and their restoration to at least 'good status' in a specified period. 2. Though there are many methods for assessing water quality, none has the scope of that defined in the Directive. The provisions of the Directive require a wide range of variables to be measured and give only general guidance as to how systems of classification should be established. This raises issues of comparability across States and of the costs of making the determinations. 3. Using expert workshops and subsequent field testing, a practicable pan-European typology and classification system has been developed for shallow lakes, which can easily be extended to all lakes. It is parsimonious in its choice of determinands, but based on current limnological understanding and therefore as cost-effective as possible. 4. A core typology is described, which can be expanded easily in particular States to meet local conditions. The core includes 48 ecotypes across the entire European climate gradient and incorporates climate, lake area, geology of the catchment and conductivity. 5. The classification system is founded on a liberal interpretation of Annexes in the Directive and uses variables that are inexpensive to measure and ecologically relevant. The need for taxonomic expertise is minimized. 6. The scheme has been through eight iterations, two of which were tested in the field on tranches of 66 lakes. The final version, Version 8, is offered for operational testing and further refinement by statutory authorities.