Monday

27th May 2019

European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law

The European Commission has proposed a bill to protect whistleblowers almost five years after such a demand was first floated by the European Parliament.

The commission's proposal seeks to strengthen legal protection of whistleblowers regardless of their employment status in the public or private domain throughout EU states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It is, however, a long way from initial statements made by Cecilia Malmstrom, who as the home affairs commissioner in 2013, said that the executive had no intention to float a bill.

Then in 2014, media outlets throughout Europe uncovered how Luxembourg became the go-to country for corporate tax evasion.

The scandal was leaked to the media by Antoine Deltour, a former employee turned whistleblower at PriceWaterHouseCoopers, who later faced lengthy jail time and massive fines.

"What I can tell is that so far the costs of my defence have been approximately €60,000," Deltour told this website early last year, also noting a heavy "human toll".

The affair was an embarrassment to the commission given the secret tax deals had run rampant under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who was the Grand Duchy's prime minister and finance minister until taking top post as president of the EU executive.

On Monday (23 April), Juncker's first-vice president Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels that the long delay was due in part to the legal complexity underpinning the proposal.

"Yes, it took us awhile, yes it is extremely urgent, we have so many recent cases to prove that but I think now that we have got it right," he said.

Public pressure and rolling scandals

The Greens in the European Parliament had even proposed their own draft legislation in mid-May 2016 to kick start the proposal as a proof of concept.

Public pressure, along with other scandals like Panama Papers and the recent Cambridge Analytica affair, had also exposed whistleblower rifts among member state national laws.

Only France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and United Kingdom are said to have a comprehensive law protecting whistleblowers.

Cyprus and Latvia, for instance, have no whistleblower protection rules while 17 other EU states offer only partial protection. Those facing retaliation in Estonia and Finland, for instance, have no specific legal recourse.

Pro-transparency groups embrace bill

Such gaps will now be plugged.

It means contractors, interns, and job applicants, among others, are covered by the rules in areas that range anywhere from environmental protection to tax avoidance. Labour rights are excluded over broader fears that the legislation would be delayed with Timmermans saying existing workplace national laws are good enough.

"It would not have manifestly improved had we included this in the whisleblower proposal," he said, noting he wants the bill adopted before the European elections next year.

The proposal sets up a tiered approach to report abuse, first demanding the complaint goes through internal channels, then to national authorities, followed by media.

All companies with more than 50 employees or with an annual turnover of over €10m will have to set up an internal procedure to handle whistleblowers' reports.

Local government overseeing 10,000 or more residents will also have to comply. Both will have to ensure the confidentiality of the whistleblower.

Should internal channels fail or compromise the case, then the person can go straight to the media.

Vera Jourova, who presented the bill alongside Timmermans, said the bill aims to empower people and level the odds given that so many often feel hopeless against the power of corporate giants or the corruption they witness.

"The proposal clearly forbids retaliation, the burden of proof will also be reversed in case a person has suffered from retaliation," she said.

The proposal has been welcomed by civil groups like Transparency International, whose Brussels-office described it as "a bold step in the right direction".

The transparency spokesman for the Greens, Hungarian MEP Benedek Javor, said the commission's proposals are a good starting point.

"Whistleblowers have been the heroes behind many recent scandals, unearthing major breaches of public trust and driving legislative change. They deserve our support, not criminalisation," he said, in a statement.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a global body for professional accountants, also welcomed the latest measures.

"As always the devil's in the details and implementation of the directive's provisions will be decisive," noted ACCA's head of corporate governance, Jo Iwasaki.

LuxLeaks forces discussion on EU-wide protections

LuxLeak whistleblower Antoine Deltour is urging justice ministers to help put in place rules to protect people across Europe who leak confidential information for the public good.

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Europol busts global cybercrime gang

A loose network of cyber criminals recruited from an online Russian forum managed to infect thousands of computers in an effort to steal online banking credentials. The gang has been dismantled, with some now on the run.

News in Brief

  1. Russia-critical banker elected president of Lithuania
  2. Timmermans calls for 'progressive alliance'
  3. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  4. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  5. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  6. Polish ruling party PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  7. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  8. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us