Fusion has the potential to make a major contribution to the realisation of a sustainable and secure energy supply for the EU a few decades from now, with the international project ITER being the major step in the progress towards this goal. The realisation of ITER therefore lies at the heart of the present EU fusion research strategy, and it will be accompanied by a strong and focused European R&D programme to prepare for its exploitation and to develop the technologies and knowledge base that will be needed during its operation and beyond.

This paper describes the context of European fusion research and the unique organisational character of the programme. Current activities under the Seventh Euratom Framework Programme, including developments concerning ITER, are summarized