Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

EU parliament backs whistleblower law

  • Howard Wilkinson, whistleblower behind Danske Bank, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (Photo: danskebank.com)

The European Parliament voted in favour of an EU law to protect whistleblowers on Tuesday (16 April).

With widespread backing from 591 MEPs, the EU directive sets out rules to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and offers them safe channels to report breaches of EU law.

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  • Up to €9.6bn in public procurement could be saved if whistleblower protection laws were in place, says EU commission (Photo: European Parliament)

Moments after the vote, Virginie Roziere, the French centre-left MEP who steered the file through the parliament, in a tweet claimed victory for European democracy.

"There were a lot of links in the chain for this to be passed," she said at a press conference in Strasbourg, noting that the negotiations had taken some 13 months.

"During the debate yesterday, there was a large consensus from all the political groups and all the institutions to welcome the text," she added.

The draft legislation still needs to be approved by EU ministers and then transposed into national law over the next two years.

Tuesday's vote represents a turning point for whistleblowers throughout the EU following numerous banking and tax avoidance scandals.

The European Commission had initially opposed the idea of EU-wide laws on the issue.

But combined efforts by civil society, journalist unions, and MEPs, along with the 2014 tax avoidance scandal known as LuxLeaks, helped convince the EU executive to put forward a bill in 2018.

Nick Aiossa, a senior policy officer at Transparency International EU, an NGO in Brussels, said it was the European Commission that had come forward with a compromise amendment at the end.

"I applaud all the institutions in coming together to ensure that people who want to report corruption can go first and foremost to law enforcement or regulatory bodies," he told this website.

The Commission's original proposal had obliged whistleblowers to first use internal reporting channels in order to get protection.

Aiossa said member states now need to transpose the law in the strongest way possible and include all the national laws that are not covered by the directive.

The directive applies to both the private and public sectors and covers areas like public procurement, consumer protection, nuclear safety, and EU financial interests.

Protection from abuse

It means people will not risk losing their jobs or other forms of punishment should they expose the wrongdoing.

Only 10 EU states have dedicated legislation in place to protect whistleblowers.

The new EU law aims to plug the legislative gaps in the hopes of saving the taxpayer billions in areas like public procurement.

The abuse often faced by whistleblowers is likely to have discouraged many others.

Antoine Deltour, the French auditor who helped expose the LuxLeaks scandal during his time at Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC), faced prison and mounting legal fees for his efforts.

He told EUobserver in 2017 that his legal bills at that time had topped €60,000, on top of other costs to his personal life.

"I think a very long and costly court case is in itself dissuasive to some potential whistleblowers," he pointed out.

Over 80 percent of respondents in a 2017 Eurobarometer on corruption said they did not report corruption they had experienced or witnessed.

The new EU law now seeks to embolden them to become potential whistleblowers.

Some 29 MEPs voted against the law. Another 33 abstained.

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