Government Accountability Project’s international program is advocating extensively for the EU whistleblower directive that if passed would expand whistleblower rights to all member-countries. This article highlights where the legislation needs to change before completion. Read the original article here.
An EU directive nearing completion would protect the whistleblowers at the heart of recent scandals—but only if they reported within their organisation first.
The European Union’s proposal for a directive to protect whistleblowers is reaching the final stages of its legislative journey. Major changes must however be made to the directive, even at this late stage, for the legislation to serve the citizen and encourage the reporting of wrongdoing within European companies and other organisations.
For many years, Eurocadres has lobbied hard for European-wide whistleblower protection which would enable safe reporting of criminal acts, corruption and other malfeasance. In 2016 it established the platform WhistleblowerProtection.EU, through which close to 90 trade unions and other civil-society organisations have co-operated in substantial and intensive lobbying to ensure Europe will be a safer place for those who report threats to the public interest. It would be disastrous if, after all this hard work, the EU ends up with a whistleblower-protection regime which risks discouraging citizens from reporting wrongdoing, by giving organisations new legal routes to avoid scrutiny, hide or destroy incriminating evidence or initiate legal processes to wear down the whistleblower.
LuxLeaks, Panama Papers, Dieselgate …
One only has to mention ‘LuxLeaks’, the Panama Papers or ‘Dieselgate’ (the German vehicle-emissions scandal) to confirm that whistleblowing is now deeply ingrained in the European body politic. In recent years, the EU’s legislative agenda has been fuelled by whistleblower revelations and the desire of regulators and legislators to respond to the scandals revealed.
Without the brave acts of whistleblowers—many of whom have lost their jobs and faced persecution and reprisals—these cases would not have seen the light of day. It is important that EU whistleblower legislation makes it easier for citizens to come forward and report, without fear of negative repercussions for their career, economic status or private life.
Trade unions and civil society have long worked together with the European Parliament, demanding that the European Commission should act. After persistent lobbying, the commission was finally convinced to propose a whistleblower-protection directive, the draft published in April 2018.
This initial proposal was more ambitious than expected but it contained several structural flaws. It was improved considerably by the European Parliament in a report adopted in November last year. Parliamentarians added the right to be protected when reporting abuses of workers’ rights, supported anonymous reporting and introduced lower thresholds on reporting to the media or the public. The EP report strengthened the protection of freedom of speech, while diminishing the options for retaliation against workers in both public and private sectors.
The Council of the EU has however sought to dismantle important parts of the good work by the parliament. The council’s position, if adopted, would increase the possibilities for retaliation against those exposing crimes and give accused organisations more time to destroy or hide incriminating evidence. It could also allow companies to stay embroiled in legal cases for years, to break the resolve and the financial stability of the whistleblower.
Mandatory internal reporting
The central problem with the commission proposal, which remains in the council position, is the requirement to report first internally through a dedicated channel. The directive does not offer protection were reporting to be via normal supervisory channels—which means most reports would be unprotected. It would have the absurd effect of making it safer not to report to one’s superior and instead to use the separate whistleblower report channel within the company.