This paper is the first of several 'think pieces' that have been commissioned as part of a collaborative research programme designed to examine the dynamics of institutionalising people-centred processes and participatory approaches for natural resource management (NRM) in a variety of settings. The paper focuses on natural resource management in Europe and explores the tensions between state-led and participatory management of water and forests. The authors analyse and discuss how participation does - or does not - occur in the management of forest and water resources at various institutional levels in European contexts. Using a historical perspective, they critically reflect on the roles and interests of the state in offering an institutional framework for participation and/or facilitating processes aimed at institutionalising participation in natural resource management. The paper comprises four parts: Institutionalisation of the State and Natural Resources Management; Forests and Water Management - the Changing Role of the State; Participation - States or People's Control? and Conclusions.