EU agrees framework for whistleblower protection

The European Parliament and member states have reached a provisional agreement on a set of rules that will guarantee a high level of protection for whistleblowers who report breaches of EU law in a range of areas, including anti-money laundering, fraud and corporate taxation

The new framework, setting EU-wide standards of protection for whistleblowers, was first proposed by the European Commission in April 2018, which said current arrangements across the EU are currently fragmented and uneven. In most EU countries the protection granted is partial and only applies to specific sectors or categories of employees.

Věra Jourová, commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality said: ‘Dieselgate, the Panama Papers and Cambridge Analytica revelations made us realise how whistleblowers help uncover unlawful activities that damage both the public interest and our general welfare.

‘We must support and protect the courageous people who bring illegal activities to light. I am happy that we have reached a balanced system that encourages employers to solve problems internally but also allows whistleblowers to turn to public authorities without fear of retaliation.’

The new rules cover a wide reach of areas of EU law, including anti-money laundering and corporate taxation, data protection, protection of the EU's financial interests, food and product safety and environmental protection and nuclear safety.

The framework sets out a series of principles including clear reporting procedures and obligations for employers, which the Commission says will establish a system of safe channels for reporting both within an organisation and to public authorities.

All companies with more than 50 employees or with an annual turnover of over €10m (£8.5m) will have to set up an internal procedure to handle whistleblowers' reports. All state, regional administrations and municipalities with over 10,000 inhabitants will also be covered by the new law.

Whistleblowers are encouraged to report first internally, if the breach they want to reveal can be effectively addressed within their organisation and where they do not risk retaliation. They may also report directly to the competent authorities as they see fit, in light of the circumstances of the case.

In addition, if no appropriate action is taken after reporting to the authorities or in case of imminent or manifest danger to the public interest or where reporting to the authorities would not work, for instance because the authorities are in collusion with the perpetrator of the crime, whistleblowers may make a public disclosure including to the media. This will protect whistleblowers when they act as sources for investigative journalism.  

The rules will protect whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of retaliation. They will also require from national authorities that they inform citizens about whistleblowing procedures and protection available. Whistleblowers will also be protected in judicial proceedings.

The provisional agreement now has to be formally approved by both the European Parliament and the Council.

Report by Pat Sweet

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