What now for the new Whistleblower Protection Directve?
On Tuesday it was all about the euphoria of the whistleblower protection Directive being adopted by the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg. Now the hard work begins again, as politicians, trade unions, NGOs and whistleblowers meet to discuss; “The future of the new [whistleblower protection] Directive”.
EP votes for the whistleblower protection Directive by a large majority
The historic moment, when the EP voted for the whistleblower protection Directive by a large majority, has rightfully been heralded as, ‘one of the greatest successes of this European Parliament’s mandate’. But it is what happens now, in terms of individual Member State transposition of the Directive, which will determine the effectiveness of this legislation.
One of the greatest successes of this European Parliament’s mandate
A few procedural steps remain before the legislation comes into force, tentatively early autumn. The EP has established that whistleblowers the from all EU member states will now be legally protected when they speak out against corruption and wrong doing in general. But it is how those countries adopt and interpret the legislation, which will provide the key. The civil society event not only celebrated the adoption of the new Directive, it also sought to chart a course for its future at Member State level.
The future of the new Directive?
Opening the civil society event, Virginie Rozière, the EP’s Rapporteur on Europe’s whistleblower protection, noted that the passing of the Directive, by such a large majority of MEPs, reflected the work done collectively by civil society, journalists as well as politicians, ‘who provided a strong foundation for what has been achieved’.
Pascal Durand MEP told attendees that civil society played a crucial role in persuading reluctant Member States of the need for a European dimension to whistleblower protection. It is hoped that these networks will remain active in terms of ensuring that Member State transposition is as effective as possible.
Deltour expressed concern that Member States may be reluctant to go beyond the material scope, covering EU competencies.
Antoine Deltour, the LuxLeaks whistleblower, speaking at the event, said suspicion of whistleblowers has diminished in recent years, as the general public now have a better understanding that whistleblowing is in the public interest, which he said helped civil society mobilise in support of the EU Directive. However, Deltour expressed concern that Member States may be reluctant to go beyond the material scope, covering EU competencies, when it comes to implementing the Directive. He feels that the legal status of whistleblowers who gather and distribute ‘secret information’ needs to be clarified in transposition, as they remain vulnerable in many European countries.
Now the hard work begins
Transparency International EU’s Senior Policy Officer Nick Aiossa continued on the theme of transposition. He said that for his organisation the hard work was just beginning, in that the minimum standards set out in the Directive, should be raised in transposition process. According to Aiossa, Member States should incorporate higher whistleblower protection standards into national legislation. He also talked of the need to increase protection for whistleblowers working in EU institutions.
Member States should incorporate higher whistleblower protection standards into national legislation.
Martin Jefflén President of Eurocadres stated that ‘transposition needs to fill in the gaps’, still present in the Directive, with the limitations of material scope being one of the problematic areas. Jefflén also said that trade unions will continue to fight for the rights of whistleblowers around the protection of workers, in terms of health and safety standards, for example. According to the Eurocadres President there is room for whistleblower protection to improve in the 10 countries, which already have national whistleblowers protection legislation and this will be part of the ongoing battle in the upcoming transposition process.
The national transposition of the Directive
The Executive Director of Whistleblowing International Network (WIN), Anna Myers talked of being energised by the EP’s vote approving the whistleblower protection Directive, but she also noted that ‘a lot of hard work still needs to be done at the Member State level, as a number of EU governments are showing a reluctance to fully implement the new Directive. While other Member States are indicating that they will deliberately look to minimise the level of protection, their citizens have.
WIN will be working with its members, associates and coalition partners to ensure the national transposition of the Directive, which must be completed by 2021, results in even stronger and more progressive laws to protect whistleblowers.
The worrying trend of governments privatising information, in terms of criminalising whistleblowers gathering and sharing ‘secret documents.
Myers also pointed to the worrying trend of governments privatising information, in terms of criminalising whistleblowers gathering and sharing ‘secret documents’ which they believe come under the public right to know. She hopes the transposition process will strengthen the notion, that when whistleblowers come forward that they will know that they are fully legally protected, that they will be listened to, that action will be taken and that civil society, journalists and politicians will stand by them, when the information they reveal exposes corruption and wrong doing.
So as the celebrations surrounding the European Parliament’s approval of the whistleblower protection Directive subside, it is clear that the whistleblower protection platform will be needed more than ever, as the battles over Member State transposition begins.
Council legal opinion must not be used to delay completion of whistleblower protection legislation
The European Council has a responsibility to protect the positive amendments made to the proposal for a whistleblower protection directive adopted by the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee last month.
It would be a real shame if member states’ representatives were now seen as acting against public concerns, in resisting a whistleblower protection law which encourages the reporting of crime and wrongdoing.
The now famous Danske Bank Whistleblower, Howard Wilkinson, testified before the TAX3 European Parliament Committee last week. Wilkinson reported suspicious financial transactions at Danske Bank’s Estonia branch, where he worked until 2014.
The WhistleblowerProtection.EU platform is celebrating a job well done, after the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament passed a strengthened whistleblower protection directive, on the 20th of November.
The EU’s whistleblower protection directive, is in a state of flux, key political battles are being fought right now. The whistleblower proposals as they currently stand, have several Achilles heels tucked into the directive’s fine print.
The LuxLeaks revelations were unprecedented not only in the level of corruption they uncovered, but also in the vast array of journalists from different media organisations working together to uncover corruption.
Many of the biggest whistleblower disclosures of recent years have been international in nature – LuxLeaks and the Panama Papers in particular. As pointed out by the Greens in the European Parliament, there is a general European public interest that often supersedes the national interests of a single member state.
Protection for whistleblowers in Europe is currently a patchwork affair. Some countries, such as Ireland having robust laws in place, while others, such as Cyprus, have practically none. 16 EU member states have specific laws or provisions, and 10 of those adopted their laws or in the past 5 years.