In June 2010, European Union (EU) Heads of State and Government adopted a social inclusion target as part of the new 'Europe 2020 Strategy': to lift at least 20 million people in the EU from the risk of poverty and exclusion by 2020. One of the three indicators used to monitor progress towards this target is the EU indicator of severe material deprivation (MD). A main limitation of this indicator is the weak reliability of some of the items it is based on. For this reason, a thematic module on MD was included in the 2009 wave of the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey. This article assesses the 2009 EU-SILC MD data and proposes an analytical framework for developing robust EU MD indicators. It carries out a systematic item by item analysis at both EU and country levels to identify the MD items which satisfactorily meet suitability, validity, reliability and additivity criteria across the EU. This approach has resulted in a proposed 13-item MD indicator covering some key aspects of living conditions which are customary across the whole EU covering a broad range of basic (food, clothes, shoes, etc.) as well as social (Internet, regular leisure activities, etc.) necessities.