Abstract: 

The future of the European Union, with regards to its economic, social and environmental development, is based on its capability to innovate, which is reflected strongly in the major policy initiatives that set the political guidelines of the Union for the coming decade. Innovation has been placed at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs. Looking at the increasing economic and social burden which the current crisis is placing on our societal model in Europe, innovation becomes an even more important driver to rebalance the economic, social and environmental aspects of our European way of living.

However, there is fundamental question to be faced in the European Union: how to address risk in innovation? Innovation always entails a certain amount of risk: as we wander into the unknown, we put new techniques to the test, which no one has ever used before. Successful innovation is to a large extent an issue of identifying and controlling that risk. So there is a crucial link between the both: if managed successfully, risks mean opportunities for innovation.

We are all exposed to a number of risks in our every-day life. And we all deal in different ways with the risks we are facing. Some of us are more risk-averse than others who tend to take more risks or feel that they are able to control the risks. People, industries and also politicians take a certain approach towards risk when making decisions. A risk can be a source of loss but also a source of benefit. Risk management is as much about seizing opportunities as it is about minimising negative consequences.

Hence finding the right balance between allowing new ideas to be tested and controlling the risks potentially associated to their use is one of the key tasks for all those contributing to innovation. The tool that has been developed by society to perform this task is the methodology of risk assessment, which is today part of many modern regulatory frameworks that govern the introduction of new technologies. In this framework the principles of proportionality and precaution play a central role, however their interpretation and application are seen in many different ways raising numerous challenges for policy-makers, society and industry.

Innovation by nature means challenging and exploring new approaches.

Issues:

  • Benefits and risks from innovation 
  • Public perception of benefits and risk
  • Public opinion, prejudice and new technologies: societal dialogue
  • Communication and Education
  • Science and scientific uncertainty
  • Risk-based vs Hazard-based policy and legislation
  • Risk assessment
  • Precautionary principle
  • Proportionality principle
  • Integration of risk and benefit 

Questions:

  • Is Europe unlocking all its innovation potential? What are the main barriers?
  • How to deal with scientific uncertainty?
  • Does Europe have a risk-adverse society? Do people trust technological development? What are the critical factors?
  • Is the precautionary principle blocking the development of innovation in Europe?
  • What role has to be played by scientists, industry, governments, policy-makers and institutions?
  • What recommendations could be made to improve EU’s policy and institutional framework to foster innovation while better integrating risks and benefits?