In principle, many climate policymakers have accepted that large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is necessary to meet the Paris Agreement’s mitigation targets, but they have avoided proposing by whom CDR might be delivered. Given its role in international climate policy, the European Union (EU) might be expected to lead the way. But among EU climate policymakers so far there is little talk on CDR, let alone action. Here we assess how best to ‘target’ CDR to motivate EU policymakers exploring which CDR target strategy may work best to start dealing with CDR on a meaningful scale. A comprehensive CDR approach would focus on delivering the CDR volumes required from the EU by 2100, approximately at least 50 Gigatonnes (Gt) CO2, according to global model simulations aiming to keep warming below 2°C. A limited CDR approach would focus on an intermediate target to deliver the CDR needed to reach ‘net zero emissions’ (i.e. the gross negative emissions needed to offset residual positive emissions that are too expensive or even impossible to mitigate). We argue that a comprehensive CDR approach may be too intimidating for EU policymakers. A limited CDR approach that only addresses the necessary steps to reach the (intermediate) target of ‘net zero emissions’ is arguably more achievable, since it is a better match to the existing policy paradigm and would allow for a pragmatic phase-in of CDR while avoiding outright resistance by environmental NGOs and the broader public.