These new rules, setting EU-wide standards of protection for whistleblowers, were first proposed by the European Commission in April 2018.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “We should protect whistleblowers from being punished, sacked, demoted or sued in court for doing the right thing for society. These new, EU-wide whistleblowers' protection rules do exactly that and will make sure they can report in a safe way on breaches of EU law in many areas. This will help tackle fraud, corruption, corporate tax avoidance and damage to people's health and the environment. We encourage Member States to put in place comprehensive frameworks for whistleblower protection based on the same principles.”
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Dieselgate, the Panama Papers and Cambridge Analytica revelations made us realise how whistleblowers help uncover unlawful activities that damage both the public interest and our general welfare. We must support and protect the courageous people who bring illegal activities to light. I am happy that we have reached a balanced system that encourages employers to solve problems internally but also allows whistleblowers to turn to public authorities without fear of retaliation."
The new rules cover a wide reach of areas of EU law, including anti-money laundering and corporate taxation, data protection, protection of the Union's financial interests, food and product safety and environmental protection and nuclear safety. Moreover, Member States are free to extend these rules to other areas. The Commission encourages them to establish comprehensive frameworks for whistleblower protection based on the same principles.
- Clear reporting procedures and obligations for employers: the new rules will establish a system of safe channels for reporting both within an organisation and to public authorities.
- Safe reporting channels: whistleblowers are encouraged to report first internally, if the breach they want to reveal can be effectively addressed within their organisation and where they do not risk retaliation. They may also report directly to the competent authorities as they see fit, in light of the circumstances of the case. In addition, if no appropriate action is taken after reporting to the authorities or in case of imminent or manifest danger to the public interest or where reporting to the authorities would not work, for instance because the authorities are in collusion with the perpetrator of the crime, whistleblowers may make a public disclosure including to the media. This will protect whistleblowers when they act as sources for investigative journalism.
- Prevention of retaliation and effective protection: The rules will protect whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of retaliation. They will also require from national authorities that they inform citizens about whistleblowing procedures and protection available. Whistleblowers will also be protected in judicial proceedings.
This provisional agreement now has to be formally approved by both the European Parliament and the Council.
Protection given to whistle-blowers across the EU is currently fragmented and uneven. In most EU countries the protection granted is partial and only applies to specific sectors or categories of employees.
The Commission committed to take action to protect whistleblowers, as journalist sources, at the second Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in November 2016, which was on the theme of ‘Media Pluralism and Democracy'. The Commission proposed this draft Directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law in April 2018. It was accompanied by a Communication on how to better protect whistleblowers in Europe more generally.
Strengthening whistleblower protection also gives effect to the Commission's commitment to put a stronger focus on enforcement of EU law, as set out in its 2016 Communication on EU Law: Better Results through Better Application.
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