There is growing concern globally about the occurrence of anthropogenic organic contaminants in the environment, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products. This concern extends to groundwater, which is a critical water resource in Europe, and its protection is a priority to the European Commission, the European Union (EU) Member States and national agencies across Europe. Maintaining good groundwater status supports improved public health, economic growth and sustains groundwater dependant ecosystems. A range of measures have been introduced for regulating several substances that have impacted groundwater (e.g. nitrate and pesticides). However, these measures only cover a small fraction of anthropogenic substances that could pollute groundwater. Monitoring for these unregulated substances is currently very limited or not carried out at all. Therefore, a coordinated European-wide approach is needed to identify, monitor and characterise priority substances or groups of substances that have the potential to pollute groundwater. This evidence base is critical for policy development and controls on these currently unregulated substances. The European Commission highlighted this as a need during the review of the EU Groundwater Directive Annexes in 2014, when the requirement to develop a Groundwater Watch List (GWWL) was established. This paper describes the approach that has been developed through a voluntary initiative as part of the EU CIS Working Group Groundwater to establish the voluntary EU GWWL. The process for developing the GWWL is one that has brought together researchers, regulators and industry, and is described here for the first time. A summary of the key principles behind the methodology is presented as well as results from pilot studies using per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and pharmaceuticals. These explore and support the viability of the GWWL process, an important step towards its adoption and its future use for groundwater protection across Europe.