We present a new synthesis, based on a suite of complementary approaches, of the primary production and carbon sink in forests of the 25 member states of the European Union (EU-25) during 1990–2005. Upscaled terrestrial observations and model-based approaches agree within 25% on the mean net primary production (NPP) of forests, i.e. 520±75 g C m−2 yr−1 over a forest area of 1.32 × 106 km2 to 1.55 × 106 km2 (EU-25). New estimates of the mean long-term carbon forest sink (net biome production, NBP) of EU-25 forests amounts 75±20 g C m−2 yr−1. The ratio of NBP to NPP is 0.15±0.05. Estimates of the fate of the carbon inputs via NPP in wood harvests, forest fires, losses to lakes and rivers and heterotrophic respiration remain uncertain, which explains the considerable uncertainty of NBP. Inventory-based assessments and assumptions suggest that 29±15% of the NBP (i.e., 22 g C m−2 yr−1) is sequestered in the forest soil, but large uncertainty remains concerning the drivers and future of the soil organic carbon. The remaining 71±15% of the NBP (i.e., 53 g C m−2 yr−1) is realized as woody biomass increments. In the EU-25, the relatively large forest NBP is thought to be the result of a sustained difference between NPP, which increased during the past decades, and carbon losses primarily by harvest and heterotrophic respiration, which increased less over the same period.