The Innovation Principle

Paul Leonard / Jan 2016

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. Photo: European Union

The Innovation Principle was introduced by the European Risk Forum (ERF), a Brussels-based non-for-profit think tank, in October 2013 to ensure that,

Whenever legislation is under consideration its impact on innovation should be assessed and addressed”.

The Innovation Principle sets out to provide a new and positive framework for ensuring policy makers not only recognise societal and environmental needs for precaution, but also recognise the need to for innovation. The Innovation Principle is proposed to enrich and improve the quality and application of EU legislation, to stimulate confidence and investment in innovation. Its establishment in EU policy making should therefore support a more innovation friendly and environmentally responsible European policy framework.

In October 2013 twelve CEOs of innovative multinational companies signed a letter to presidents of the three EU institutions, proposing adoption of the Innovation Principle. They expressed concern over the negative effect which increasingly risk-averse legislation can have on Europe’s ability to innovate and investment in new technologies. They pointed out that technological innovation is a risk taking activity and that there is no such thing as technological innovation without uncertainty and risk. As such, these risks should be recognized, assessed and managed but cannot simply be avoided if Europe wishes to remain competitive, at the forefront of innovation.

Following President Juncker’s 15 July 2014 address to the European Parliament, a larger group of 22 CEOs sent a letter to the President in response to his statement that,

         “Jobs, growth and investment will only return to Europe if we create the right regulatory environment and promote a climate of entrepreneurship and job creation. We must not stifle innovation and competitiveness with too prescriptive and too detailed regulations”

Together these CEOs invest €30 billion a year on innovation and employ 1.5 million people. Support from such a broad range of innovative industries demonstrated that the underlying concerns are serious and systemic, and not specifically associated with any single company or industrial sector. Such a coordinated message would not have been possible without shared concerns and aspirations. This is important as it demonstrates how important an issue this is for Europe and those who invest in innovation in this part of the world.

This momentum and spectrum of industrial support was further increased by publication of a joint position by ERF, BUSINESSEUROPE (BE) and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) on a,

“Better Framework for Innovation, fuelling EU policies with an Innovation Principle”

This unique initiative provides a sense of how important it will be for European jobs and growth to address these underlying concerns; not least because global players can decide where in the world it is most attractive to invest. Any loss of confidence in the future acceptability of technological innovation by multinational companies could result in shifting focus to other less burdensome parts of the world, as happened with green biotechnology. This initiative also provides a timely reminder of how important it is to ask which other future innovations and enabling technologies could be lost in Europe and end up being exported to other parts of the world.

To be successful, the Innovation Principle needs to be supported by a wider range of stakeholders, including: academia, SMEs, unions and NGOs. For this reason, ERF, BE and ERT are keen to stimulate debate and to engage with interested parties from all sectors.

The impact of regulatory burden and the important contribution which the Innovation Principle could make to EU policy making was recognised by Commissioner Moedas in his “Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World” speech at the “A new start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation” conference in Brussels on 22 June, 2015,

         “First, I believe we need to do more to create a regulatory environment for innovation to flourish. How do we make sure that legislative processes that take several years can adapt to technologies that evolve every month? How do we make sure that regulation is based on an innovation principle as well as a precautionary principle?”

Launch of the Innovation Principle coincides with the EU Commission’s better regulation agenda. It encapsulates the spirit in which Europe’s ability to innovate should be recognised and nurtured by policy makers. It also provides a focal point for constructive discussion about how regulatory burdens could be reduced while at the same time protecting our health and the environment.


Paul Leonard

Paul Leonard

January 2016

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