Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

  • Howard Wilkinson, whistleblower behind Danske Bank, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (Photo: danskebank.com)

EU-wide rules on protecting whistleblowers are a step closer to reality following a political agreement between EU states and the European Parliament.

Although the final text of the agreement has yet to be published, the deal reached on Monday (11 March) marks a possible turning point in protecting whistleblowers from reprisals and abuse.

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French socialist MEP Virginie Roziere, who helped negotiate the latest deal, told reporters in Strasbourg that the text "forms a remarkably robust basis for the European Union to protect whistleblowers."

The current patchwork of national laws on whistleblower protection has often complicated efforts to protect people who revealed damaging information. Some EU states like Cyprus currently have very weak or no such laws.

The latest plan, an EU-directive, aims to create a single legal basis for all EU states to build upon, in the hopes that whistleblowers will not be legally hounded in the courts.

"We are moving in the direction of having a single competent authority to protect whistleblowers at the EU level," added Roziere.

French liberal MEP Jean-Marie Cavada, who spearheaded the rules on behalf of the European parliament, said both France and Germany had mounted resistance.

"I tried to explain to the French government, that was reticent, that their position could not hold water," he said. "It would appear that we managed to win the day."

The Brussels-branch of Transparency International EU, an NGO, hailed the latest deal as a mould-breaking piece of legislation.

"It is quite an accomplishment that negotiations between the institutions have come to a positive end," Nick Aiossa, senior policy officer at Transparency International EU, said in a statement.

The latest development comes after whistleblowers like Antoine Deltour, who helped expose how Luxembourg helped large companies cut their global tax bills in late 2014, faced possible jail sentences.

He told EUobserver in 2017 that his legal bills at that time had topped €60,000, on top of other costs to his personal life.

"I think a very long and costly court case is in itself dissuasive to some potential whistleblowers," he pointed out.

More recently, Howard Wilkinson, who blew the whistle last year on money laundering through the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, said he had been gagged from revealing the full damage.

The Danish bank had funnelled some €200bn of suspicious money, mostly from Russia, between 2007 and 2015.

A press statement from the European parliament says the text covers breaches of EU law dealing with tax fraud, money laundering, public procurement, product and transport safety, environmental protection, public health, consumer protection, and data protection.

It also says the rules will entitle whistleblowers to report breaches internally, to national authorities, or go public.

It also bans others from retaliating or intimidating those that do come forward with damaging information.

The commission estimates up to €9.6bn, in public procurement alone throughout the EU, could be saved if whistleblower protection laws were in place.

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