The European Commission has recognised the importance of a more innovation-oriented EU acquis, gradually exploring the ways in which EU rules can support innovation. The ‘innovation principle’ was introduced to ensure that whenever policy is developed, the impact on innovation is fully assessed. However, as further discussed in this Study, the exact contours of the innovation principle have been shaped very gradually within the context of the EU better regulation agenda: originally advocated by industry in the context of the precautionary principle, the innovation principle has gradually been given a more articulate and consistent role, which aims at complementing the precautionary principle by increasing the salience of impacts on innovation during all phases of the policy cycle.
This Study presents an evaluation of the current implementation of the innovation principle, limited to two of its three components, i.e. the Research and Innovation Tool included in the Better Regulation Toolbox, and the innovation deals. As a preliminary caveat, it is important to recall that the implementation of the innovation principle is still in its infancy, and thus the Study only represents a very early assessment of the extent to which the innovation principle is being correctly implemented, and whether changes would be required to make the principle more effective and useful in the context of the EU better regulation agenda.
The main finding is that the innovation principle has the potential to contribute to the quality and future-proof nature of EU policy, but that significant changes and effort will be needed for this potential to fully materialise. The most evident areas for improvement are related to the lack of a clear legal basis, the lack of a widely acknowledged definition, the lack of awareness among EU officials and stakeholders, and the lack of adequate skills among those that are called to implement the innovation principle. As a result of these problems, the impact of the innovation principle on the innovation-friendliness of the EU acquis has been limited so far. The Commission should clarify in official documents that the Innovation principle does not entail a de-regulatory approach, and is not incompatible with the precautionary principle: this would also help to have the principle fully recognised and endorsed by all EU institutions, as well as by civil society, often concerned with the possible anti-regulatory narrative around the innovation principle in stakeholder discussions.
Apart from clarifications, and further dissemination and training, major improvements are possible in the near future, especially if the innovation principle is brought fully in line with the evolving data-driven nature of digital innovation and provides more guidance to the Commission on how to design experimental regulation, including inter alia so-called ‘regulatory sandboxes’. Finally, the Commission should ensure that the innovation principle is given prominence with the transition to the Horizon Europe programme, in particular due to the anticipated launch of ‘missions’ in key domains.
The report can also be downloaded from the Publications Office of the European Union website.