INTRODUCTION 'Health' is an identifiable theme within the European Union multi-annual research programmes. Public Health Innovation and Research in Europe (PHIRE), led by the European Public Health Association, sought to identify public health research strategies in EU member states. METHODS Within PHIRE, national public health associations reviewed structures for health research, held stakeholder workshops and produced reports. This information, supplemented by further web searches, including using assisted translation, was analysed for national research strategies and health research strategies. RESULTS All countries described general research strategies, outlining organizational and capacity objectives. Thematic fields, including health, are mentioned in some strategies. A health research strategy was identified for 15 EU countries and not for 12. Ministries of health led research strategies for nine countries. Public health research was identified in only three strategies. National research strategies did not refer to the European Union's health research programme. CONCLUSIONS Public health research strategies of European countries need to be developed by ministries of health, working with the research community to achieve the European Research Area.