A provisional rule approved in March by the European Commission and member countries ensures “robust” protection for whistleblowers, according to the agency’s response to a letter from the National Whistleblower Center (NWC).

Click for EU whistleblower video

Under the proposed rule, whistleblowers would be permitted to report wrongdoing to outside authorities before reporting to their company or agency internal review program. Earlier versions required internal reporting first, which the NWC believes would interfere with the right of employees to confidentially report suspected crimes.

The new rule specifically addresses that issue, wrote Georgia Georgiadou, deputy head of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Policy program. in a letter to Stephen M. Kohn of the NWC.

In particular as regards the agreed rules on reporting channels, whistleblowers are encouraged to report first internally, if the breach they want to reveal can be effectively addressed within their organisation and they consider that there is no risk of retaliation. They may also report directly to the competent authorities as they see fit, in light of the circumstances of the case.

The ability to report to outside authorities was a contentious issue during the March debate over the directive. Several member countries, led by Germany and France, wanted to require employees to report potential crimes and fraud internally before going to regulators and law enforcement. In addition to the NWC, other transparency and anti-corruption groups argued that that the approach would have made it more difficult for individuals to come forward with information about wrongdoing.

Georgiadou wrote that the rules will strengthen enforcement of EU laws and policies regulating a range of areas including food and product safety, environmental protection and corporate taxation.

Moreover … EU Member States are encouraged, when transposing the Directive, to extend the application of its rules also to other areas, so as to establish comprehensive and consistent frameworks for whistleblower protection.

The Commission believes that, once transposed, the Directive will make a real difference in the workplace culture, both in the public and the private sector, throughout the EU. More generally, it will contribute to promoting transparency, good governance, accountability and freedom of expression, which are values and rights on which the EU is based.