National Whistleblower Day

The European Union approved EU whistleblower protection rules Tuesday.

Virginie Rozière EU member head shot
Virginie Rozière / Wikimedia Commons

“This is a good step toward protecting whistleblowers and toward protecting European democracy,” Virginie Rozière, a member the European Parliament (MEP) said in French at a press conference following the decision.

The new law, approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. It also creates “safe channels” to allow them to report breaches of EU law. It is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection.

The rules have previously been in the hands of member states, resulting in a range of vastly different approaches.The law was approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions.

Moments after the vote, Virginie Roziere, the French centre-left MEP who steered the file through the parliament, in a tweet claimed victory for European democracy.

“There were a lot of links in the chain for this to be passed,” she said at a press conference in Strasbourg, noting that the negotiations had taken some 13 months.

Danske Bank Whistleblower EU testimony
Kohn and Wilkinson at the EU Parliament

Both Danske Bank whistleblower, Howard Wilkinson, and his attorney, Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the National Whistleblower Center, pushed for stronger protections in the law.

Wilkinson testified before a European Parliament Committee in November. In a letter to EU, Kohn noted the proposed E.U. whistleblower directive “should not undermine the ability of whistleblowers to remain confidential, throughout the reporting process, as this creates the opportunity to intimidate witnesses and may tip criminals off to the evidence against them.” 

The Open Society Foundations website reports:

Of course, the directive is not perfect. But once it is implemented, it will introduce sanctions for people attempting to retaliate against whistleblowers, and it will exempt whistleblowers from civil or criminal liability relating to the disclosure of information which is in the public interest. 

Four years after an EU commission staffer said that there was neither the legal basis nor the political will to institute an EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection, coordinated action from civil society and a groundswell of support from European citizens had led to just that. Their perseverance not only demonstrates the value and importance of civil society; it should be an inspiration to those fighting hard for the rights of whistleblowers, as well as to all those who believe that the European Union can be an agent of positive change.

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 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.

In a letter to National Whistleblower Center chair Stephen M. Kohn, Georgia Georgiadou, deputy head of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Policy program,  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.

 

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