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The 2019 edition of the Maastricht Centre for European Law academic opening event focused on the precautionary principle in the European legal order. The speakers discussed different aspects of the principle, its relevance for environmental law, as well as its relationship with innovation.

A starting point of the discussion was an overview of how many acts have been adopted on the EU level and how far the European Court of Justice has applied the principle, given by Prof. Ellen Vos Professor of European Union Law. The overview will is based on the findings of a report on the “The effect of the Precautionary Principle (PP) since 2000”, which is currently being prepared by the Consortium partners of the RECIPES project (www., under the lead of the Maastricht University.

“One of the problems of the precautionary principle is the difficulty in defining it. And it has been one of those areas where it is easy to criticise the principle because you can very quickly make a foolish interpretation. There`s plenty of people who say that precaution means that unless you are absolutely certain, you shouldn't be doing something. Whilst, in fact, it really only means that it’s not because we are not absolutely certain that we might not potentially address some of the challenges over new technology”, says Prof. Geert Van Calster, Professor University of Leuven.

As technology can come with risks to society and the environment, Maja Brkan, Associate Professor of EU law, asks “whether the precautionary principle should play a role in regulating technology in EU law”. Indeed, as mentioned by Van Calster, when looking at the attempt of the industry to introduce a so-called “Innovation principle”, we see industries setting the priority on industrial development over the environment and public health.

These and many other questions often arise when considering new products and technologies that could affect health and the environment, like GMOs, nano-technologies, insecticides, artificial intelligence, and similar. For this reason, the RECIPES project examines the application of the principle, based on eight case studies. They all represent areas in which the stakes are high and which are thus particularly well suited for examining the complexity and controversy around the precautionary principle.


Maastricht University, Faculty of Law

Prof. Dr. Ellen Vos and Dr. Kristel de Smedt | Email:  

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