Background. Triggered by the requirement of Water Framework Directive for a good ecological status for European river systems till 2015 and by still existing lacks in tools for cause identification of insufficient ecological status MODELKEY (http:// www.modelkey.org). an Integrated Project with 26 partners from 14 European countries, was started in 2005. MODELKEY is the acronym for 'Models for assessing and forecasting the impact of environmental key pollutants on freshwater and marine ecosystems and biodiversity'. The project is funded by the European Commission within the Sixth Framework Programme. Objectives. MODELKEY comprises a multidisciplinary approach aiming at developing interlinked tools for an enhanced understanding of cause-effect-relationships between insufficient ecological status and environmental pollution as causative factor and for the assessment and forecasting of the risks of key pollutants on fresh water and marine ecosystems at a river basin and adjacent marine environment scale. New modelling tools for risk assessment including generic exposure assessment models, mechanistic models of toxic effects in simplified food chains, integrated diagnostic effect models based on community patterns, predictive component effect models applying artificial neural networks and GIS-based analysis of integrated risk indexes will be developed and linked to a user-friendly decision support system for the prioritisation of risks, contamination sources and contaminated sites. Approach. Modelling will be closely interlinked with extensive laboratory and field investigations. Early warning strategies on the basis of sub-lethal effects in vitro and in vivo are provided and combined with fractionation and analytical tools for effect-directed analysis of key toxicants. Integrated assessment of exposure and effects on biofilms, invertebrate and fish communities linking chemical analysis in water, sediment and biota with in vitro, in vivo and community level effect analysis is designed to provide data and conceptual understanding for risk arising from key toxicants in aquatic ecosystems and will be used for verification of various modelling approaches. Conclusion and Perspective. The developed tools will be verified in case studies representing European key areas including Mediterranean, Western and Central European river basins. An end-user-directed decision support system will be provided for cost-effective tool selection and appropriate risk and site prioritisation.