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EU moves to protect whistleblowers

Nicole Goebel
April 23, 2018

The European Commission has proposed protective measures to ensure whistleblowers can safely report unlawful activity. The bill would harmonize fragmented legislation across the bloc.

EU Commission VP Frans Timmermans
Image: picture-alliance/ZumaPress/W. Dabkowski

The EU's executive arm, the Commission, on Monday proposed measures that would set a standard for the protection of whistleblowers across the 28-member European Union.

The measures will require companies to set up clear reporting channels, feedback obligations and mechanisms to prevent retaliation.

What the Commission said:

  • All companies with more than 50 staff or an annual turnover of more than €10 million ($12.2 million) must set up an internal procedure to handle whistleblowers' reports.
  • State, local and regional adminstrations and councils with more than 10,000 people will also have to comply.
  • A three-tier reporting system ensuring confidentiality, consisting of internal reporting channels, a way to report to authorities and/or the public or media.
  • Authorities and companies are to be obliged to give feedback.
  • All forms of retaliation are to be banned. In case of a breach, whistleblowers should have access to free advice and "adequate remedies." These could include measures to prevent harassment in general as well as dismissals.
  • The burden of proof is to be reversed — the organization must prove that they are not acting "in retaliation against the whistleblower."

Read more: Whistleblower Chelesea Manning prepares for US Senate run

Whistleblower - Alone against the System

'A game changer'

"Many recent scandals may never have come to light if insiders hadn't had the courage to speak out," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said at the presentation in Brussels. "But those who did took enormous risks."

"The new whistleblowers' protection rules will be a game changer," Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said, adding that the proposals are about "empowering people and levelling the odds."

Transparency International called the EU directive a "victory for whistleblowers" and "a bold step in the right direction." 

Read more: 'Panama Papers' law firm Mossack Fonseca shutting down

EU-wide protection: Monday's proposals ensure all 28 EU members have the same rules, as currently only 10 member states have regulations that fully protect whistleblowers.

Uncovering illegal activities: The new measures do not just protect the individual whistleblower, they also serve the public by helping to detect breaches of EU law.

Protecting the rule of law: The Commission stressed that the proposals will strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Europe.

Recent scandals: Dieselgate, the LuxLeaks, the Panama Papers, the ongoing Cambridge Analytica revelations would most likely not have come to light without whistleblowers.

Read more: Whistleblowers should be 'protected, not prosecuted'

What comes next: The proposals will have to be approved by all EU members as well as the European parliament.

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