||Recent studies have vividly emphasized the lack of consensus on the degree of vulnerability (see ref. 1) of European societies to current and future winter temperatures. Here we consider several climate factors, influenza incidence and daily numbers of deaths to characterize the relationship between winter temperature and mortality in a very large ensemble of European regions representing more than 400 million people. Analyses highlight the strong association between the year-to-year fluctuations in winter mean temperature and mortality, with higher seasonal cases during harsh winters, in all of the countries except the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium. This spatial distribution contrasts with the well-documented latitudinal orientation of the dependency between daily temperature and mortality within the season. A theoretical framework is proposed to reconcile the apparent contradictions between recent studies, offering an interpretation to regional differences in the vulnerability to daily, seasonal and long-term winter temperature variability. Despite the lack of a strong year-to-year association between winter mean values in some countries, it can be concluded that warmer winters will contribute to the decrease in winter mortality everywhere in Europe.