Last year I was inspired by the report on the European Commission (EC) proposing a new law to strengthen whistleblower protection across the EU.
The press release in 2018 said that the proposal would guarantee a high level of protection for whistleblowers who report breaches of EU law by setting new, EU-wide standards. It would establish safe channels for reporting both within an organization and to public authorities. It was also written to protect whistleblowers against the usual retaliation, that of dismissal, demotion and other forms of retaliation. And it required national authorities to inform citizens and provide training for public authorities on how to deal with whistleblowers.
At the time of the initial proposal, Suelette Dreyfus, executive director of the advocacy group Blueprint for Free Speech, said, “The European Commission’s proposal is a bold step forward with global ripple effects for compliance. So many companies have tendrils in Europe now.”
Well, progress on this proposal has been made. In a March 12, 2019 press release the EU stated that an agreement for safe reporting channels had been reached: “To ensure that potential whistle-blowers remain safe and that the information disclosed remains confidential, the new rules allow them to provide information on breaches using internal and external reporting channels. Depending on the circumstances of the case, whistle-blowers will be able to choose whether to first report internally to the legal entity concerned or directly to competent national authorities, as well as to relevant EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.”
Negotiators from the European Commission, European Parliament, and European Union Council commented, this “landmark paradigm breakthrough creating free speech protections for whistleblowers, employees who challenge illegality or abuses of power that betray the public trust” is now pending formal approval by the three entities over the next several months. The legislation will then be legally binding on all 28 European Union countries.
Virginie Rozier (S&D, FR) said: “This text was one of my biggest priorities as an MEP and I am glad to see it succeed. We have had to fight to get a final text that meets expectations: whistle-blowers must be protected, whilst choosing the best means to be heard and to defend the interests of the citizens.”
The provisional agreement will need to be confirmed by member states’ ambassadors (Coreper) and the Legal Affairs committee before being put to a final vote by the full House and Council. The directive will enter into force twenty days after being published in the EU Official Journal.
Fast forward to today and the European Parliament will now vote this week on this directive to protect people reporting breaches of European Union law and provide incentives for those aware of wrongdoing to act in the public interest. The previous version of the EU directive required whistleblowers to report internally to receive protection.
Presently Whistle-blower protection is fragmented or only partial across member states, with only 10 EU countries (France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and UK) providing comprehensive legal protection. In the remaining countries, protection is only partial or applies to specific sectors or categories of employee.
A 2017 study carried out for the Commission estimated the loss of potential benefits due to a lack of whistle-blower protection, in public procurement alone, to be in the range of €5.8 to €9.6 billion each year for the EU as a whole.
The March 12, 2019 press release went on to say, that while there are several weaknesses in this new directive, such as its inapplicability to national security whistleblowers, as well as disclosures concerning labor rights and working conditions… “the new rights established by the Directive provide minimum protections for whistleblowers that member nations may then strengthen.”
Our own Government Accountability Project (GAP) legal director Tom Devine has been diligent in assuring the legislation is accurate and genuine. He says, “If this agreement is finalized, Europe will surpass the United States free speech whistleblower rights. The Directive is a landmark breakthrough for transparency and accountability. Like all pioneer reforms, there are weaknesses due to compromises necessary for passage. But this is a new paradigm for freedom of speech.”
Stephen M. Kohn, a Washington-based whistleblower lawyer and Chairman of the National Whistleblower Center , commented, “The amended Directive is a historic step in the right direction. For the first time Europe is acknowledging the key role whistleblower’s play in protecting the public interest and reporting fraud. We look forward to working with European governments in helping them develop truly effective whistleblower programs, including the payment of whistleblower rewards.”
Several advocacy groups were involved in moving this directive forward. The victory was the result of an intense campaign by the Green Party, whose European Parliament Members championed the breakthrough; in fact, last week, the activists submitted a petition for the directive signed by 280,000 people and 80 NGOs, including the Government Accountability Project.
I predict these changes could potentially set a much-needed precedent for the United States to follow and applaud the work each of the directives’ contributors have added.
Late Breaking News The EU Parliament just approved the whistleblower protection directive!