Several European countries reported outbreaks of severe disease caused by Streptococcus pyogenes in the late 1980s. This marked a departure from the previous decades, where very few such outbreaks were noted. These changes in disease occurrence formed part of a global phenomenon, the reasons for which have yet to be explained. Results of surveillance activities for invasive S. pyogenes infection within Europe over the past fifteen years identified further increases in many countries. However, variations in surveillance methods between countries preclude robust comparisons being made, illustrating the need for a unified surveillance strategy across Europe. This was finally embodied in the Strep-EURO programme, introduced in 2002.