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Aruba, April 25, 2016 - The problem is not regulation. It’s Europe’s obsession with risk.

Europe has driven global innovation for centuries. Modern science, enlightenment, the industrial revolution: This quest for knowledge, evidence, and new solutions has always been the basis of European prosperity. Today we ought to remember this legacy. Europe’s economy can only continue to compete globally if we invest in more innovation.

We cannot keep forfeiting more and more technologies to other regions. Not only is the U.S. far ahead of Europe, but Asia is catching up. Taking the chemical industry as an example, since the turn of the millennium, China has increased its global share of scientific publications in chemistry from 7 to 28 percent and its share of world trade with research-intensive goods from 3 to about 10 percent. The picture is similar in other industries. If we don’t act now, Europe will lose even more ground.

Of course, it’s the task of companies, not governments, to turn new ideas into innovative products and solutions. But they need a supportive environment. Regulation must keep pace with scientific progress and technological innovation in all industries. And game-changing innovation requires swift adaptation of the regulatory framework. In other words, the European economy needs better and more innovation-friendly policymaking. It’s in the interest of our citizens, because they all stand to benefit from scientific progress. And progress is continuing apace. Take the life sciences for example: In 2000, it took about a year to sequence a protein. Our knowledge of proteins and their functions has dramatically increased. Today it takes less than a minute, and the costs have gone down accordingly. Or take the new techniques used in genome editing, which one day might make it possible to substitute single elements of DNA and cure serious diseases like blood disorders and certain types of blindness.
This is breakthrough innovation, and it deserves proper regulation. But there is still a lack of evidence-based policy in Europe. The reflex is to first look at a new product’s risks as opposed to its benefits. This makes technological progress almost impossible. The political assessment of opportunities and risks must be balanced and based on scientific evidence. Take nanotechnology, biotechnology and genetic engineering, to name just a few examples. In evaluating new technologies in these fields, it’s not unusual for facts to be ignored.