Thursday

19th Jan 2017

EU-wide whistleblower protection law rejected

The European Commission has rejected a request by MEPs to introduce EU whistleblower protection laws before the end of year.

Deputies in Strasbourg voted through a crime report on Wednesday (23 October) to ensure, among other proposals, greater protection for people who go public with damning evidence.

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The report says an EU-wide law is necessary to protect people dealing with national and cross-border corruption relating to EU financial interests.

Conservative Italian MEP Salvatore Iacolino, who steered the report for the parliament, estimated that between 4 to 5 percent of the EU’s GDP is lost to corruption alone.

But EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom, who welcomed other aspects of the report in a plenary debate on Tuesday, told MEPs that the commission does not intend to put forward the legislation.

"For the time being, the commission does not however intend to propose new legislation on the definition of corruption or approximations of statutes or limitations of corruption offences or protection for whistleblowers," she said.

She noted international standards are already in place.

The report does not include protection for those who go public with national security secrets.

Whistleblowing a ‘fundamental right’

The task has instead been taken up by a handful of parliamentarians at the human rights watchdog Council of Europe in Strasbourg who want to include a whistleblower protocol in the European Convention of Human Rights.

German MP Andrey Hunko of the Die Linke party tabled the motion, which was then accepted by the parliamentary assembly at the Strasbourg body.

“I think it is important to have a debate on this,” Hunko told this website from Berlin.

A protocol in the convention, he noted, would help guarantee permanent protection for whistleblowers outside national jurisdictions.

Abstract arguments of military and state secrecy as well as national security should not be allowed to hamper rule of law, notes the motion.

Hunko says the whole process could take up to two years and will have to be debated and voted on by the Strasbourg council of ministers. He suspects the motion will meet resistance from the ministers.

Prior rulings by the Strasbourg human rights court bounds EU member states to respect principles about covering whistleblowing as a specific form of free speech.

Laws in EU member states

Member states, for their part, either have no whistleblower laws or have laws with mixed track records.

Three German opposition parties last year proposed to strengthen whistleblower laws, but were shot down by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and the liberals earlier this year.

Die Linke wanted the government to come up with a proposal. The Greens wanted to strengthen civil and public official protection laws. The Social Democrats put forward an idea to create single whistleblower laws for the private sector.

“In fact nothing changed, everything was rejected by the black and yellow government,” Guido Strack, chairman of the Cologne-based Whistleblower-Netzwerk, an NGO, told EUobserver.

German rules impose a so-called “duty of loyalty” with the employer. Someone who spots criminal acts must first discuss it with his employer before going to the police or the media.

“First you need to inform your employer so that he has a chance to react and correct the wrongdoing if there is any, and only if he doesn’t react or doesn’t react properly, which you need to prove, then only then can you go to the public prosecutor,” he said.

The UK is said to have some of the strongest rules in the EU.

A public interest disclosure act act, passed in 1998, protects almost all private and public sector employees from retaliation. UK lawmakers are reviewing it to see if it needs to be stronger.

Romania and Slovenia have whistleblower laws that protect only government employees.

Hungary has a whistleblower law but has not set up an agency to administer it.

Luxembourg’s law is divided up into separate criminal and civil codes to protect public and private sector employees.

France recently passed a law to protect people when it comes to public health and safety. It is now considering amending the law to cover financial disclosures among government officials.

Belgium strengthened whistleblower provisions for the federal level and is considering similar moves in its regions.

Ireland and the Netherlands both have bills in their respective parliaments. Denmark and Greece announced they would put in place similar laws.

The European Commission, for its part, has asked the NGO Berlin Transparency International (TI) to come up with an in-depth report on whistleblower legislation among EU member states.

Mark Worth, TI’s whistleblower programme co-ordinator, said the report is set for publication on 5 November.

“We look at it [whistleblowing] as a tool to fight corruption,” he said.

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