Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Greens propose EU law to protect whistleblowers

  • The Greens say around 40% of all detected fraud cases in 114 countries were uncovered by whistle-blowers (Photo: stumayhew)

Green MEPs are proposing EU-wide whistleblower protection rules in the hope of forcing the European Commission to come up with a bill in June.

On Tuesday (3 May), one of parliament's smallest groups presented draft legislation that intends to trigger a political debate and push the EU executive into helping protect people across Europe who reveal illegal or unethical government or corporate practices.

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The move follows an ongoing trial in Luxembourg in which 30-year old Antoine Deltour faces a 10-year prison sentence for leaking a vast cache of sketchy tax rulings to the media, known as LuxLeaks.

Luxembourg, along with Ireland, Romania, Slovenia, and the UK, have advanced whistleblower laws.

But exceptions and other caveats make their application patchy and easily challenged before a judge.

Deltour is on trial because he handed over thousands of documents from accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to French journalist Edouard Perrin and now stands accused of theft and revealing business secrets.

Perrin is also standing in court, as well as another former PwC employee, Raphael Halet.

The law in Luxembourg prohibits whistleblowers from going to the press.

The rulings showed how government authorities in Luxembourg colluded with PwC to give huge tax breaks to multinational corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens everywhere else.

The public exposure has been an embarrassment for EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, the Duchy's former prime minister and finance minister.

The commission has since expanded its investigations and probes into corporate tax evasion and the rules that underpin them.

Public outrage

The Greens are hoping to capitalise on the public outrage.

Last month, some 11.5 million documents were leaked from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Those files expose how the global elite avoid paying into public coffers by hiding away assets in offshore entities.

"We are not waiting passively anymore for the commission to come up with something," said Green Hungarian MEP Benedek Javor.

Javor, along with German Green MEP Julia Reda, presented the draft to journalists after having first sent a copy to both Juncker and his second-in-charge Frans Timmermans.

"The European Parliament repeatedly called the European Commission to come up with a European whistleblower directive," noted Javor.

The commission has previously argued that it has no legal grounds to make whistleblower legislation on the European level.

According to EU parliament figures up to €70 billion is lost every year in Europe because of corporate tax avoidance.

Trade secrets

The Green proposal also follows the parliament's recent endorsement of a trade secrets directive that some said curtails whistleblower standards and raises broader doubts on the protection of journalists who then report on them.

Under their new proposal, whistleblowers like Deltour would be covered, and the loopholes in the trade secrets directive would be sealed.

"Morally, the EU cannot effort to criminalise exactly the same behaviour that we hold up as a high standard for European citizenship," said Reda, noting that Deltour was last year awarded the European Citizen Prize by the European Parliament.

Deltour, for his part, is set to discuss the Green's draft on Wednesday.

Legal basis

The legal basis behind the Green draft is articles 151 and 153 of the EU treaty, which deal with the improvement of working conditions in the European Union

"We chose this legal basis because it allows this directive to apply to anyone who has a working relationship, including for example, interns, contractors and so on," said Reda.

The text put forward in the draft goes beyond any existing national whistleblower rules in terms of scope and exempts them from criminal and civil proceedings.

The proposal is likely to receive a cool welcome from member states.

But Reda and Javor believe they may be receptive given LuxLeaks showed how Luxembourg was bending tax rules that stripped tax revenues from other member state national coffers.

"We are driving the debate forward by forcing the other actors to publicly position themselves on the question of whistleblowers," said Reda.

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