The site for the future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is already known to be Armazones, near Paranal (Chile). The selection was based on a variety of considerations, with an important one being the quality of the atmosphere for the astronomy planned for the ELT. We present an overview of the characterization of the atmospheric parameters of candidate sites, making use of standard procedures and instruments as carried out within the Framework Programme VI (FP6) of the European Union. We have achieved full characterization of the selected sites for the parameters considered. Further details on adaptive optics results and climatology will be the subject of two forthcoming articles. A summary of the results of the FP6 site-testing campaigns at the different sites is provided.