Whistleblowers Now Enjoy ‘High-Level’ Protection in the EU
New legislation grants whistleblowers across the European Union greater protection and shields them from retaliation. The legislation is aimed at encouraging reports of wrongdoing in order to increase transparency both in public and private companies.
Following mass public outcry, the European Parliament approved a new law that would grant “high-level” protection to whistleblowers. Approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions, the law shields whistleblowers from retaliation in hopes of encouraging reports of wrongdoing.
The legislation marks the first time whistleblowers have been given protection across the European Union. Until April 15th, dealing with whistleblowers has been left to the member states, which resulted in a range of different approaches to the issue. With many of the biggest data leaks in the past ten years coming from Europe, this has created a serious discrepancy among member states. According to the European Commission, just ten member states – France, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia, and the UK – had a “comprehensive law” protecting whistleblowers.
The new legislation, apart from protecting whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion, and other forms of punishment, also creates so-called “safe channels” that allow them to report breaches of EU law.
While discussing the legislation, several states reportedly tried to water down the law. Luxembourg, Ireland, and Hungary wanted tax matters to be excluded, but they were ultimately retained, according to Reuters. If member states fail to properly implement the law, the European Commission can take formal disciplinary steps against the country and could ultimately refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
The legislation says “whistleblowers play a key role in preventing breaches of European Union law and protecting society.”
“However, they are often discouraged from reporting their concerns for fear of retaliation. For these reasons, the importance of providing effective whistleblower protection for safeguarding the public interest is increasingly acknowledged both at European and international level,” the European Parliament proposal read.
Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the European Commission, said the European Union should protect whistleblowers from being punished, sacked, demoted or sued in court for doing the right thing for society.
“This will help tackle fraud, corruption, corporate tax avoidance and damage to people’s health and the environment,” he said in a statement.
Transparency International, a global anti-corruption civil society organization, said the “pathbreaking legislation” will also give employers “greater legal certainty around their rights and obligations”.
(Banner image: Virginie Rozière)