Safeguard citizen’s protections: Remove “Innovation Principle” from Horizon Europe

Together with many Civil Society Organisations we call for the immediate and complete removal of the “innovation principle” from Horizon Europe, the next EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, because it is nothing more than an attempt to keep regulation of dangerous products at bay. The inclusion of this so-­called principle in Horizon Europe has far-­reaching implications and poses a threat to human health, the environment and true sustainability. Ahead of the final meeting between the EU institutions to agree the legislative package for Horizon Europe, we strongly urge the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to act now and delete all references to this dangerous tool.

Why we don’t support the innovation principle:

It has no legal basis. The innovation principle has not been defined in international law or in EU treaties or EU Court of Justice law.

It is an industry-­created tool to undermine key policies and regulations protecting human health and the environment. This principle was created by the European Risk Forum (ERF), a platform representing chemicals, tobacco and fossil fuels industries, among others, to undermine EU regulations including on chemicals, pesticides, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. For example, its supporters in industry have urged that it should be used to weaken the REACH regulation which is intended to regulate dangerous chemicals. Similarly, there have been calls for it to be used to  revent the ban of potent neonicotinoid pesticides, which were banned by EU Member States in May 2018 for their disastrous impact on pollinators’ health.

It is incompatible with the EU’s Precautionary Principle, which is enshrined in the EU treaties and allows regulators, reflecting society’s chosen level of protection, to take action without the need to wait for absolute scientific certainty on the risks of new products. For example, reports have shown it could have prevented serious harm from asbestos. While it is claimed the two principles are compatible, industry proponents of the innovation principle have previously made clear they do not support the Precautionary Principle.

It creates additional measures intended to delay key regulations. The innovation principle would handcuff public decision-­makers and prevent them from regulating potentially dangerous products by forcing all new regulation to undergo costly extra impact assessments before being proposed to EU legislators.

It is unnecessary as a tool to support innovation for society’s benefit. A main claim by supporters of the innovation principle is that it is needed to spur innovation for sustainability. However, this conveniently ignores that not all innovation is good innovation. For innovation to work for the public good, it must not harm people or the planet. It is the role of regulators to guide innovation in the right direction for the good of society.

In fact, it has been shown that regulation spurs innovation. It has helped to bring new, safer chemicals to market and encouraged innovations that shifted away from ozone depleting substances. Furthermore, it is not always the case that new technologies and products are the right solutions for ensure a sustainable future, better policies and regulations play an important role too.

The inclusion of this ‘principle’ in Horizon Europe would set an extremely dangerous precedent for regulation and policy making in the EU. We urge the Council and Parliament to recognise these risks and remove this unacceptable tool.