The Precautionary Principle: Its Use Within Hard and Soft Law

European Journal of Risk Regulation. Issue 2/2012, 147-156

10 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014

See all articles by Rene Von Schomberg

Rene Von Schomberg

European Commission-DG Research and Innovation

Date Written: February 2, 2012


The precautionary principle in public decision making concerns situations where following an assessment of the available scientific information, there are reasonable grounds for concern for the possibility of adverse effects on the environment or human health, but scientific uncertainty persists. In such cases provisional risk management measures may be adopted, without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those adverse effects become fully apparent. This is the definition of the precautionary principle as operationalized under EU law. The precautionary principle is a deliberative principle. Its application involves deliberation on a range of normative dimensions which need to be taken into account while making the principle operational in the public policy context. Under EU law, any risk management measures to be adopted while implementing the precautionary principle, have to be proportionate to ensure the chosen high level of protection in the European Community. This article will illustrate the established practice concerning the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment and how the principle is implemented under hard law. The article also provides an outlook on what this may imply for the relative new case of nanotechnology and the use of precautionary principle within the context of soft law (use of codes of conduct).

Keywords: precautionary principle, risk, soft law, environmental law, gmos, nanotechnology

Suggested Citation

Von Schomberg, Rene, The Precautionary Principle: Its Use Within Hard and Soft Law (February 2, 2012). European Journal of Risk Regulation. Issue 2/2012, 147-156. Available at SSRN:

Rene Von Schomberg (Contact Author)

European Commission-DG Research and Innovation ( email )

Rue de la Loi 200
Brussels, B-1049


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