Taking stock of the precautionary principle since 2000

Application, effects, public debate and citizens’ perceptions

The precautionary principle is supposed to enable decision-makers to adopt precautionary measures even if scientific uncertainties about environmental and health risks remain. However, opinions about the precautionary principle are divided. To some, it is unscientific and an obstacle to progress. To others, it is a necessary tool to protect human health and the environment.

We have recently published the report on “The effect of the precautionary principle since 2000”, which examines the application of the precautionary principle from 2000 to 2019. According to the report, the precautionary principle is recognised as a general principle of EU law. However, a lack of clear guidelines for its implementation results in different interpretations and applications across countries and policy areas. This allows for a flexible use of the principle but also leaves stakeholders with a lack of legal certainty. The report presents both, a stocktaking of the way the precautionary principle has been applied and reflections on its limitation.

This first report, along with a selection of nine Case Studies conducted in 2019-2020, prepares the ground for the core tasks of the project: the development of scenarios where both the precautionary principle and innovation are taken into account, and the development of tools and guidelines for applying the precautionary principle. These tools and guidelines will be co-created with different stakeholders via interviews, workshops, and webinars. They will be designed to help policymakers and other stakeholders to apply the precautionary principle while encouraging innovation.

Here are the:
-    Report on “The effect of the precautionary principle since 2000
-    Synthesis of the report on “The effect of the precautionary principle since 2000”

The main findings of the report have been compiled in a policy brief.

Citizen meetings
The citizen’s meetings, which were part of this project phase, allowed the research team to collect citizens’ opinions, reflections, and ideas on the precaution principle and innovation. They were participating in the meetings conducted in Bulgaria, Norway, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands, and did not perceive precaution and innovation as a contradiction to each other. They favoured a case-by-case review for balancing precaution and innovation.

Here are the:
- Citizen Meetings’ full report
- Synthesis of the Citizen Meetings’ report

Stakeholder Database

Throughout the project, the RECIPES team engages with different stakeholders. Meetings are conducted to discuss issues related to precaution and innovation with citizens, workshops are organized to discuss the future of the precautionary principle and to develop tools and guidelines for its application, and stakeholders are interviews as part of the case studies on the precautionary principle. As a basis for the selection of stakeholders for such exercises and for dissemination activities, a stakeholder database has been established as a living document.

Media analysis
Furthermore, during the first project phase, the project team conducted a media analysis for three newspapers - the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Le Monde (France) and The Guardian (UK). The analysis aimed to depict how media shapes and drives the public debate on the precautionary principle. One of the RECIPES case study topics that was most frequently referred to in all of the newspapers, was GMOs.

More details can be found in:
-    the Media Analysis synthesis report
-    the Media Analysis of the Süddeutsche Zeitung
-    the Media Analysis of Le Monde and
-    the Media Analysis of The Guardian.

The project
The RECIPES (REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders) project is based on the idea that the responsible application of the precautionary principle and the consideration of innovation aspects do not necessarily contradict with each other. Building on this idea, RECIPES aims to reconcile innovation and precaution by developing tools and guidelines to ensure the precautionary principle is applied while still encouraging innovation. The project (2019 - 2021) is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and is implemented by a consortium that includes 11 partners from 7 European countries.



Please refer to the individual reports for the list of authors.

Published in
March 2020
Policy Brief
Publishing Date