Saturday

21st May 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

What Europe still needs to do to save its bees

On World Bee Day, it is essential to pay homage to a variety of pollinating insects crucial for our food security. A number of EU projects contribute to their sustained survival.

More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes

A Joint Investigation Team combines prosecutors, police and judges from different countries who come together under the coordination of Eurojust to synchronise cross-border investigations — with a track record of achieving results: from the Bataclan attacks to the MH17 investigation.

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Will 'Putin's Nato' follow Warsaw Pact into obscurity?

Valdimir Putin's equivalent to Nato — the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus — is convening in Moscow next week to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. UK to send 'hundreds' of migrants to Rwanda each year
  2. Norwegian knife attacks were domestic dispute
  3. Sweden hits back at Turkey's 'disinformation' in Nato bid
  4. Germany's Schröder gives up one of two Russia jobs
  5. G7 countries pledge €18bn in financial aid for Ukraine
  6. Italian unions strike in protest over military aid for Ukraine
  7. Russia cuts gas supply to Finland
  8. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. What Europe still needs to do to save its bees
  2. Remembering Falcone: How Italy almost became a narco-state
  3. Economic worries and Hungary on the spot Next WEEK
  4. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  5. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  6. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'
  7. More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes
  8. French EU presidency struggling on asylum reforms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us