New system to protect and encourage reporting of breaches of EU law
Whistle-blowers will be able to choose between internal and external reporting
Safeguards against reprisals from employers
Those disclosing information acquired in a work-related context, on illegal or harmful activities, will be better protected, under new EU rules approved on Tuesday.
The new rules, adopted with 591 votes in favour, 29 against and 33 abstentions and already agreed with EU ministers, lay down new, EU-wide standards to protect whistle-blowers revealing breaches of EU law in a wide range of areas including public procurement, financial services, money laundering, product and transport safety, nuclear safety, public health, consumer and data protection.
Safe reporting channels
To ensure potential whistle-blowers remain safe and that the information disclosed remains confidential, the new rules allow them to disclose information either internally to the legal entity concerned or directly to competent national authorities, as well as to relevant EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.
In cases where no appropriate action was taken in response to the whistle-blower’s initial report, or if they believe there is an imminent danger to the public interest or a risk of retaliation, the reporting person will still be protected if they choose to disclose information publicly.
Safeguards against retaliation
The law explicitly prohibits reprisals and introduces safeguards to prevent the whistle-blower from being suspended, demoted and intimidated or facing other forms of retaliation. Those assisting whistle-blowers, such as facilitators, colleagues, relatives are also protected.
Member states must ensure whistle-blowers have access to comprehensive and independent information and advice on available procedures and remedies free-of-charge, as well as legal aid during proceedings. During legal proceedings, those reporting may also receive financial and psychological support.
The rapporteur Virginie Rozière (S&D, FR) said: “Recent scandals such as LuxLeaks, Panama Papers and Football leaks have helped to shine a light on the great precariousness that whistle-blowers suffer today. On the eve of European elections, Parliament has come together to send a strong signal that it has heard the concerns of its citizens, and pushed for robust rules guaranteeing their safety and that of those persons who choose to speak out”.
The law now needs to be approved by EU ministers. Member states will then have two years to comply with the rules.
Recent scandals, from LuxLeaks to Panama Papers, have demonstrated how important whistle-blowers’ revelations are to detect and prevent breaches of EU law harmful to the public interest and the welfare of society. Lack of effective whistle-blower protection at EU level can also negatively impact the functioning of EU policies in a member state, but can also spill over to other countries and the EU as a whole.
Currently, only 10 EU countries (France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and UK) provide 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.