Wednesday

23rd May 2018

EU trade law could criminalise whistleblowers

  • The new EU rules on trade secrets could discourage investigative journalism, critics fear. (Photo: Ken Teegardin)

The European Parliament passed a law on Thursday (14 April) that critics say could criminalise whistleblowers and journalists.

The legislation on trade secrets aims to protect European companies from corporate espionage from rival firms around the world.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“With one company out of every five a victim of theft of trade secrets every year, harmonisation should allow the creation of a safe and trustworthy environment for European companies”, the French centre-right MEP responsible for the bill, Constance le Grip, said after the vote.

But there are concerns that the law, which passed by 503 votes to 131, opens the door for companies to sue anybody who they think violated what they deem to be secrets.

Critics argue that it would have made the revelations of secret tax deals in the LuxLeaks investigation and the off-shore interests revealed by the Panama Papers illegal.

Edouard Perrin, one of the first reporters to disclose LuxLeaks and who has also been working on the Panama Papers, is already facing charges in Luxembourg for revealing sensitive information. Antoine Deltour, a former employee at the PricewaterhouseCoopers firm, the whistleblower who initiated the leaks, is also facing charges.

Both have criticised the new law.

“As a journalist, I strongly oppose the directive. As a reporter that will soon stand trial for precisely being accused of breaching trade secrets law in Luxembourg, I am perfectly aware of the dangers implied by such a legislation," Perrin said in a statement.

“The burden of proof is on us, not on companies. The sheer threat of a lawsuit will ensure investigations are killed way before any publication,” he said.

German broadcasters, including ARD and ZDF, have warned that the directive could endanger journalistic investigations. Trade unions have also protested.

An online petition had gathered some 155,000 signatures calling to halt the trade secret legislation.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based pro-transparency NGO, said multinational lobbyists had transformed the EU bill into “something resembling a blanket right to corporate secrecy.”

It said the law “threatens anyone in society who sometimes needs access to companies' internal information without their consent: consumers, employees, journalists, scientists.”

Defenders of the legislation, which now will have to be transposed into national law by member states, said there are safeguards in the text to protect whistleblowers and journalists.

“I've also been fighting to ensure that the safeguards laid down in this text to protect the work of journalists and whistleblowers are as real and as unambiguous as can be”, Le Grip said.

The text of the legislation includes safeguards, such as “exercising the right to freedom of expression and information as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.”

It also permits disclosures if they revealed wrongdoing or illegal activities.

But critics said it will be up to a judge to decide whether individual revelations fall into those categories, while companies will get to decide what are trade secrets.

"They [whistleblowers and journalists] will need to demonstrate to the judge that they acted with 'the purpose of protecting the public general interest', the burden of the proof is on them, and while large companies can afford long and expensive legal procedures, individuals usually cannot," CEO pointed out in their statement.

EU trade secrets bill prompts concern

NGOs and left-leaning MEPs have voiced concern that an EU bill on trade secrets could harm the public's access to information on matters of vital interest.

Opinion

EU trade bill threatens media freedom

MEPs are voting on legislation to protect trade secrets, in a bill which threatens to impede investigative journalists and whistleblowers.

EU court backs commission on trade secrecy

The EU’s top court has ruled in favour of the European Commission’s right to protect the confidentiality of trade documents, in a move that will frustrate campaign groups seeking greater public access to EU trade negotiations.

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.

Green MEPs launch EUleaks

Green MEPs have launched a secure platform to protect those disclosing problems in EU decision-making. Responsibility for publishing materials will fall upon MEPs.

Opinion

Linking EU funds to 'rule of law' is innovative - but vague

Defining what constitutes 'rule of law' violations may be more difficult than the EU Commission proposes, as it tries to link cohesion funds in east Europe to judicial independence. A key question will be who is to 'judge' those judges?

Opinion

Europe's budget stasis

The EU's budgetary muddling through might not be enough when the next crisis hits.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. 'Killer robot' projects eligible for EU defence fund
  2. Funding for European values needs radical changes
  3. Feeble EU format deflates Zuckerberg 'hearing'
  4. Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?
  5. EU pessimistic on permanent US trade exemption
  6. US asks EU to go after Russian and African villains
  7. Facebook threatened with removal from EU-US data pact
  8. Defence firms 'reap benefits' of advice to EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight