Whistleblower protection petition handover to the Commission: time to act

(15 November 2017) A delegation led by Eurocadres with EPSU, the European Federation of Journalists, Transparency International and wemove.eu handed over the 81,063-strong petition to the Commission,14 November.

The petition comes on top of the 5700 individual and organisations that responded to the Commission’s public consultation and the European Parliament’s positive vote, last October, both of which came out in favour of EU legislation on whistleblowers’ protection.

The delegation is part of a broad European coalition of trade unions, NGOs, researchers, journalists and political groups that has been campaigning for over a year for EU legal protection of whistleblowers. The many tax, environmental, health risks scandals show that the worker who blow the whistle often end up paying a high price such as harassment, dismissals, wage cuts, or litigation. In the Luxleaks case it is not only the whistleblowers who have been tried but also the journalist for exposing Luxembourg’s industrial scale of tax cuts deals granted to 300 multinational companies.

During the one-hour meeting, the message to Justice Director General Ms Astola was clear: time to act.  What is expected from the Commission is binding horizontal legislation, not another set of recommendations as those set out by the Council of Europe or the OECD.  

The  Commission asked why a stand-alone directive would be better than additional sectoral provisions in EU law.

The delegation said that legislation in Europe is patchy, only a minority of member states have across the board legislation, others have sectoral provisions that are often ineffective,  many as Spain have no legislation at all. A robust EU stand-alone legislation will provide the legal certainty that whistleblowers need.

The increasing mobility of workers also requires minimum standards of protection across the EU.

The EU trade secrets directive was another argument put forward. Due to come into force in member states in June 2018, the directive that aims to repress espionage, theft and unauthorised publication of companies’ confidential business information will likely make public scrutiny of corporate activities more difficult. It is reminded that during the LuxLeaks trial, the trade secret directive was used to back up the Luxembourg court’s charges of confidential information theft against the whistleblowers and the journalist.

The delegation also underlined that whistleblowers’ legal protection is part of a framework to strengthen democracy alongside independent media, public access to information and strong social dialogue and trade unions.

In response, Ms Attala said that an impact assessment should be available by end of next January that should allow the Commission to submit an initiative by the end of spring 2018. No decision has yet been taken regarding the legal nature and the scope (horizontal Vs sectoral) of the initiative . She said that sufficient support from governments must be secured and that the role of civil society to help gather that support is crucial.

For the past year, however, in response to the tax leaks and other scandals, the delegation underlined that a number of EU governments have introduced or improved whistleblowers’ protection as in France, Netherlands, Italy and Sweden. In view of those developments, coupled with the EC public consultation and the European Parliament’s support  the Commission has sufficient ammunitions to engage a political battle now, submit an horizontal proposal and let the democratic process in Council and Parliament follow its course. It will also contribute to reconnect citizens to the EU as a source of protection.

The role of corporations and their lobbies who have concerns regarding confidentiality or company secrets  was also discussed. The delegation said that some businesses as in Ireland, which has one of the most effective legislations on whistleblowers protection, do however see the point of establishing a level playing field across the EU.

To conclude, the delegation stressed that momentum is not only building up in Europe but also in other regions of the world as shown at the PSI symposium on whistleblowers held on 1 November. The Commission should build upon this. Besides, the purpose of its own public consultation, that concludes that EU action is necessary, with additional studies or surveys in relation to tax avoidance and public procurement, was indeed to help determine whether EU action was necessary or not.

Timing is important. If the Commission does not act in the next 6 months, it is likely that the issue will be passed on to the next Commission in 2019.

The coalition will therefore continue its campaign towards the Commission and governments for legal action. Support at national level of coalition members can help make a difference.

European Parliament

The Parliament adopted a resolution drafted by S&D rapporteur Roziere last October that calls for an  across-the-board directive to protect whistleblowers, from all kinds of reprisals at work, both in the public and private sectors,  and from criminal justice. The resolution sets out  many of the needed provisions and procedure the coalition has been calling for with a role for the trade unions and social dialogue to contribute to an effective enforcement of these proposed rules.  The Parliament will continue putting pressure on the Commissioners to ensure that the Commission will eventually keep its promise to provide EU protection of whistleblowers.

EC public consultation

The Commission recently published a summary of the 5707 individuals and organisations – including EPSU -  that responded to its public consultation, with an overwhelming majority in favour of EU  legally binding minimum standards on whistleblowing protection (96% of individual respondents and 84%  of responding organisations)  - See here