This Wednesday December 12th the European Parliament will vote on the Horizon Europe, EU’s largest scientific program. This is the first time the “innovation principle” could enter an EU legal text without a broad democratic debate. It is an attempt to undermine the enshrined “precautionary principle” with a vague argument that it has negative effects on innovation, jobs and growth.
Why is it important to protect the precautionary principle against the attempts to undermine it by using so-called “innovation principle”?
Firstly, this formulation does not have a legal basis. It is a product of the European Risk Forum, a lobby platform of chemical, tobacco and fossil fuel corporations – the risky industries, which are invariably subject to health and environmental regulation.
Secondly, the precautionary principle is not anti-innovation; it is for innovation that does not have negative effects on health or environment. Its careful application means the strengthening of ‘benign by design’, substitution, reduction of dangers and risks, all done at the source stage when it is much easier and much less costly to avoid harms.
Finally, the precautionary principle strengthens proactive policies of avoiding harms rather than reactive ones that are often very difficult or impossible to foresee for being “end of the pipe”.
When the stakes are high and in face of inherent scientific uncertainty the precautionary principle is a very useful tool to prevent potential irreversibility in human health, the environment and society as a whole.
Here’s how the Rio declaration of 1992, which 171 states signed, defines it:
“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
And according to the European Court of Justice:
“The precautionary principle allows the institutions to take protective measures without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those risks become fully apparent or until adverse health effects materialise. The precautionary principle, moreover, gives precedence to the requirements relating to the protection of public health, safety and the environment over economic interests.”
Commons Network along with a wide range of other civil society organisations urges members of the European parliament to remove the “innovation principle” from Horizon Europe and to protect the existing precautionary principle which favours human health over profit, ecological well-being over environmental exploitation and public safety over the interests of industry.