Purpose - To explore social dialogue over vocational education and training in Europe, comparing the role of the social partners in different national training systems and different industrial relations contexts. Design/methodology/approach - A survey of European member states (EU15 before enlargement) and two EFTA countries addressed to the national agencies or ministries responsible for vocational education and training and representing the contacts of the CEDEFOP Refernet network, supplemented by a literature review and discussions with the social partners at European level. Findings - Throughout Europe the social partners have a formal role in developing vocational training policy and are involved in implementation, particularly at sector and local levels. While the structures of participation vary according to the degree of state regulation and the locus of training, social partner involvement is extensive irrespective of the nature of the regulatory framework. Research limitations/implications - Only 13 countries responded to the survey and respondents were not always aware of workplace developments. The gaps were addressed through the literature and discussions but inevitably the study is not comprehensive. Practical implications - Valuable information for those seeking to identify common and good practice in social dialogue to improve the quality and relevance of vocational training. Originality/value - A useful baseline study of the role of the social partners in vocational education and training in Europe.