Accueil > Europe and the precautionary principle: legal, political and ethical challenges


Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English


Although no specific prior knowledge is required, students should have a genuine interest for EU, its decision-making process and for environmental and public health issues. Students should be comfortable working in English, both spoken and written, as students will be expected to deliver pieces of work and debate in that language.

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the precautionary principle, providing them with an overview of its origins, functions and current legal, political and ethical challenges in Europe. After a general introduction in which will highlight the key role played by the precautionary under EU law, we will examine its two main components. First of all, we will explore why the precautionary principle can be defined as an anticipatory tool according to which uncertain risks are qualified by the law and evaluated by the science. Indeed, only uncertain risks which have a legal and a scientific basis can trigger the application of the precautionary principle. We will then analyse the precautionary principle as an action tool. This means that EU decision makers have an obligation to take into account this principle while dealing with uncertain risks affecting the environment and the public health. However, they are granted with a wide margin of discretion to appreciate, for any case, the need to adopt a specific precautionary measure. At the end of the course, the students will be able to understand which is the legal framework governing the application of the precautionary principle under EU law, which are the political challenges to which decision makers are confronted and which is the ethical background justifying the adoption of a precautionary measure.


DONATI, Alessandra (Research Fellow)

Pedagogical format

In each session we will deal with a specific aspect or component of the precautionary principle. After introducing the relevant theoretical framework, the students will be required to work in groups on case-laws, doctrinal contributions or other topics of interest for the specific session. We will then discuss together the main findings of the working groups.

Course validation

Students will be assessed continuously on the basis of: 1) Participation in class and contributions to discussions and debates; and 2) Oral presentation and concise written submission on a previously assigned topic.

Required reading

  • DE SADELEER N., Environmental Principles. From Political Slogans to Legal Rules, Oxford, OUP, 2002, pp. 91-225
  • ALEMANNO A., « The Shaping of The Precautionary Principle by European Courts: From Scientific Uncertainty to Legal Certainty », in CUOCOLO L., LUPARIA L. (dir.), Valori costituzionali e nuove politiche del diritto, Milan, Bocconi Legal Studies research paper n° 1007404, 2007, pp. 1-13
  • DA CRUZ VILAÇA JL, EU law and integration twenty years of judicial application of EU law, London, Hart Publishing, 2014, pp. 321-353