Abstract The functional ecological guild approach is the cornerstone for the development of Indices of Biotic Integrity and multi-metric indices to assess the ecological status of aquatic systems. These indices combine metrics (unit-specific measures of a functional component of the fish community known to respond to degradation) into a single measure of ecological assessment. The guild approach provides an operational unit linking individual species characteristics with the community as a whole. Species are grouped into guilds based on some degree of overlap in their ecological niches, regardless of taxonomic relationships. Despite European fish species having been classified into ecological guilds, classification has not been standardised Europe-wide or within the context of classifying species into guilds from which metrics can be developed for ecological assessment purposes. This paper examines the approach used by the EU project FAME to classify European fish species into consistent ecological guilds and to identify suitable metrics as basic tools for the development of a standardised ecological assessment method for European rivers to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.