The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) defines a framework for assessing water bodies in Europe in the future. The conditions in the Directive impose a strong demand for "new" assessment systems. The AQEM project developed an assessment system for European streams using macroinvertebrates. Almost 900 samples were taken in about 400 streams covering 29 stream types distributed over eight countries. The role of the Oligochaeta within this European database was analysed. Almost half a million specimens of oligochaetes were collected in 772 samples. Eight families, 41 genera and 69 species were recorded, although identification emphasised the families Tubificidae and Naididae. Three countries identified oligochaetes to species level, most others restricted their identifications to easy identifiable taxa. Numbers of specimens, species, genera and families differed strongly between the countries due to method, although standardised, and taxonomic knowledge. About 50% of all collected oligochaete taxa had assigned biological and ecological indicator values for metric calculation in the AQEM assessment system. A further refinement of this indication list as well as increased coverage of oligochaete taxa was advised. Weighted averaging was used to evaluate the relation between oligochaete distribution and ecological quality class. It was concluded that when higher taxonomic levels are used in assessment, the quality evaluation results become biased. Furthermore, oligochaetes can tell us much more about the ecological status of streams than is commonly assumed. Differences in ecological optima among Limnodrilus udekemianus, Ilyodrilus templetoni, Aulodrilus pluriseta, Nais communis, and Spirosperma ferox are shown.