Friday

22nd Nov 2019

Opinion

Whistleblowers should be celebrated not persecuted

  • Whistleblowers are "the most important weapon in the fight against corruption", says Transparency International. (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

The term “whistleblower” brings to mind a dishevelled Al Pacino as Frank Serpico, a cop, who though ostracised and beaten up by his colleagues, exposed corruption in the New York Police Department in the 1970s.

In a recent interview, the real Serpico told the New York Times: “No matter how big or how much corruption there is, it’s never greater than the individual or the might of doing the right thing.”

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Luxembourg prosecutors are seeking 18-month jail terms for whistleblowers on trial over the "LuxLeaks" scandal. (Photo: Chris Tolworthy)

Unfortunately, doing the right thing still comes at a price.

The debate over Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning in the US is ongoing - and in Europe, this week, there is a milestone court decision coming up.

Though Antoine Deltour, a former PriceWaterhouseCoopers employee, his former colleague Raphael Halet and Edouard Perrin, a journalist, haven’t faced a bullet like Serpico, they could face jail time for exposing tax avoidance at multinational companies in the LuxLeaks scandal.

Without sufficient legal protections and reliable avenues to report wrongdoing, employees throughout Europe face being fired, demoted or harassed if they expose corruption and other crimes.

On trial in Luxembourg

The LuxLeaks three are on trial for leaking or publishing documents that showed how the government of Luxembourg colluded with more than 300 multinational companies to lower corporate tax bills. The sweetheart deals deprived many countries of much needed tax revenues that could have been used to support public services.

Some of these tax arrangements – for instance the one granted to Fiat Chrysler – have since been ruled to be illegal state aid by the European Commission because they distort competition. Already the European Union is trying to close loopholes.

Clearly what Deltour and the others did was in the public interest. On Wednesday (29 June), however, they will receive a verdict and sentence from a court in Luxembourg that is prosecuting them for stealing private information. The prosecutor in the case is demanding 18 months of jail time for the former PwC employees and an unspecified fine for Perrin.

In the 18 months following LuxLeaks, more progress has been achieved on corporate tax transparency than in the last 10 years. Recently, the commission has taken steps on legislative proposals including the exchange of information on tax rulings between member states, measures aimed at tackling corporate tax avoidance and public country-by-country reporting.

Unfortunately, the legal side of protecting the whistleblowers has been less impressive.

Low priority

Despite mass support for Deltour from the public – there are more than 200,000 signatures on the petition – as well as European commissioners and NGOs for revealing flaws in the global financial system, current legislation in Luxembourg does not protect people like him from being prosecuted.

Whistleblower protection legislation is weak in many European countries, non-existent in some and a low priority everywhere.

This is a travesty. Whistleblowers should be supported and not persecuted; they are the most important weapon in the fight against corruption. But in a study, we found that only four countries out of the 23 we looked provided rudimentary protection for whistleblowers.

There has been some progress in recent years: Ireland and Netherlands have approved related legislation. Nevertheless, the picture is still dire in most EU countries.

The EU needs to enforce the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which lays a clear basis for whistleblower protection by supporting freedom of expression, protection from unjustified dismissal and a right to effective remedies.

It’s not as if we don’t know what good laws to protect whistleblowers should look like: We have published what we believe are the best-practice international guidelines, and multilateral institutions like the Council of Europe and the OECD have come up with similar guidance.

Ironically, given that Antoine Deltour is French and the French government has spoken out about having good whistleblower protection, the law going through the French legislature at the moment is not fit for purpose.

Transparency International France, along with other French civil society organisations, has launched a petition to give it some backbone.

Until we have really strong whistleblower protection across Europe, those who wish to expose wrongdoing should heed the words of Frank Serpico: “You have to go up against the odds to do the right thing.” Under current conditions, it’s hard to see too many people coming forward.

But in the fight against corruption, it is ordinary people who see wrongdoing who are the most important link to exposing that wrongdoing.

Carl Dolan is director of the Transparency International EU Office

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

LuxLeaks trial to be whistleblower showcase

The trial of Antoine Deltour, who leaked documents on Luxembourg's sweetheart tax deals with big firms, will be used by campaigners and politicians to push for a law to protect whistleblowers.

Greens propose EU law to protect whistleblowers

Draft proposal by the Green group in the EU parliament aims to force commission to start legislative process to cover employees, interns and contractors who reveal malpractice.

Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong

As EU foreign affairs ministers meet in Brussels, we have seen unarmed protestors in Hong Kong shot at point blank range, others bloody and beaten, and then incarcerated over the border in mainland China in prison camps.

Column

Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

For a long time, Europe's strategic chattering class has been wondering what would happen if you took the US out of Europe's security architecture.

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament votes on new commission next week
  2. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  3. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  4. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  5. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  6. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  7. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  8. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP congress pledges 'moderate' climate solution
  2. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  3. New EU financial instruments needed
  4. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  5. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  6. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  7. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  8. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us