Mapping and assessment of ecosystem services is essential to provide scientific support to global and EU biodiversity policy. Coastal protection has been mostly analysed in the frame of coastal vulnerability studies or in local, habitat-specific assessments. This paper provides a conceptual and methodological approach to assess coastal protection as an ecosystem service at different spatial–temporal scales, and applies it to the entire EU coastal zone. The assessment of coastal protection incorporates 14 biophysical and socio-economic variables from both terrestrial and marine datasets. Those variables define three indicators: coastal protection capacity, coastal exposure and human demand for protection. A questionnaire filled by coastal researchers helped assign ranks to categorical parameters and weights to the individual variables. The three indicators are then framed into the ecosystem services cascade model to estimate how coastal ecosystems provide protection, in particular describing the service function, flow and benefit. The results are comparative and aim to support integrated land and marine spatial planning. The main drivers of change for the provision of coastal protection come from the widespread anthropogenic pressures in the European coastal zone, for which a short quantitative analysis is provided.