Systematic conservation planning provides a structured, target-driven approach to ensuring the long-term maintenance of biodiversity. However, reviews of how well the steps of such a planning process are applied in different regions are scant; some steps may be implemented although there is no formal systematic conservation planning process taking place. Here we conduct such a review for Europe. Taking in turn the six recognized steps of systematic conservation planning, for this region: (i) The availability of data on biodiversity remains a significant constraint on conservation planning because, although species occurrences have often been better mapped in Europe than elsewhere, there is a continuing mismatch between the spatial resolution at which data coverage is adequate and that of habitat fragmentation. (ii) Although there are important legal frameworks for conservation planning, explicit quantitative goals for the representation and persistence of biodiversity are largely lacking. (iii) Assessment of the effectiveness of existing protected area systems is patchy and rather ill developed, with a substantial gulf between the work being conducted in more academic and policy-oriented arenas. (iv) Nonetheless, particularly through the Natura 2000 process, there has been an extraordinary program to select additional protected areas. (v) Although it has taken longer than originally envisaged, this program is resulting in a substantial expansion of the protected area system. (vi) There are significant concerns over the extent to which existing protected area systems can maintain their biodiversity values, particularly given the small size of many of these areas and likely impacts of climate change.