For the last couple of years, European environmental risk assessment (ERA) regulations have undergone significant changes. The new 1107/2009 directive which came into effect in 2011 has triggered an on-going debate on defining specific protection goals for ERA. During this period, we conducted a study on policy change among the most influential ERA stakeholders from Europe. We interviewed 43, purposively sampled, participants from the European safety authorities, plant protection product industry and academia. Transcribed interviews underwent thematic analysis conducted separately by two coders. As we followed the advocacy coalition framework, our findings focus on stakeholders’ processes, interrelations and values behind the ERA policy change. The main challenges emerging from our analysis turned out to be the slow uptake of scientific developments into ERA and very broadly defined protection goals. The use of safety factors and cut-off criteria left risk assessors with many uncertainties. With ERA in its current form it turned out to be impossible to determine whether the current scheme is over- or under-protective. Still, the study shows that the problem of over- or under-protectiveness lies deep in the perception of stakeholders and depends greatly on their priorities. Academics strive for better ecological relevance as a priority. They have concerns that ERA is oversimplified. Regulators worry that ERA relies too much on risk mitigation and is possibly not protective enough, but at the same time, the majority believes that the assessment is well established and straightforward to follow. Industry representatives would like to see ERA based more on probabilistic risk assessment. Recent changes, according to risk assessment and management practitioners have led to an inevitable increase in complexity, which is not perceived as a positive thing, and does not necessarily translate into better risk assessment.
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