National renewable energy action plans (NREAPs) required as part of the EU Directive on renewable energy include various biomass elements. The call for mandatory NREAPs represents a substantial shift of focus from the earlier call for optional national biomass action plans (BAPs). Biomass strategies and action plans are considered to form a vital part of the renewable energy plans. This study examines the form and function of national BAPs as a way to contribute understanding of the biomass part in the NREAPs, and biomass planning in general. It assesses how national BAPs produced in the period up to May 2009 should have helped meet NREAP requirements. This work shows that while there are many items missing from the planning and reporting of biomass‐related activities in national BAPs, the plans studied have provided a useful foundation for NREAPs. The analysis also indicates that there is a range of potentially important items that are lacking from the NREAP requirements, but which are still considered to be central and present to some extent in the national BAPs. These include clear delineation of bioenergy potentials, consideration of capacity to apply technologies, as well as impact assessment considering all sustainability dimensions. Results indicate that if a coordinated and coherent biomass policy is to be achieved, then biomass action planning within NREAPs must be advanced; looking to the content of BAPs provides guidance on some of these areas.