Civil society calls for whistleblower protection in Spain

In Spain, whistleblowers still face considerable challenges. In late 2016, the government has recognized the need to establish effective protective measures for people reporting corruption and abuses of the law by introducing a draft proposal in Congress. However, a year into the amendment period, the draft is still blocked in legislative process.

But while politicians seem to be indecisive about the matter, civil society is once more proving itself as an active driver of the issue. Not only organizations and coalition, but also citizens and -most relevant- whistleblowers themselves are pushing hard for legislative improvement. No doubt this development is also closely linked to the numerous whistleblower cases, from both the public and private sector, which had significant public impact, many of them on the national level.

As an element of their activities, a group of 45 whistleblowers from all Spanish regions called for a protest in front of the National Congress on June 23. The main objective of the demonstration had been the claim for protection, calling upon Congress to sanction a law. A request to run the event within the premises of the Congress had been denied. Jointly presenting themselves as loose group of “denunciantes de corrupción” without political affiliation, denouncing how corruption rots the institutions and destroys social commitment, the whistleblowers took the opportunity to call attention to their extremely weak and fragile situation, underlining the retaliation they suffered and how politicians, media and society contributed to it.

The event began at midday with a political and symbolic performance. All dressed in black, the protesters walked the square in front of Congress, then forming a line, with target symbols on their backs to which bystanders could stick signs, representing the retaliation they suffer. Following the performance, they read a manifest, criticizing the lack of protection and calling upon Congress to debate on the issue. Citizens and several anti-corruption and whistleblower-protection organizations attended the event to support the cause. Political parties, on their side, took little interest in the event.

They should, however. The numerous whistleblower scandals only underline the urgency faced by Spanish society to protect its citizens who report wrongdoing in one of Europe’s most corrupt political systems. And while the draft legislative proposal presents a good first step into the right direction, it has significant gaps which bear the risk of posing more dangers to whistleblowers in practice. Furthermore, the draft does not live up to standards and provisions foreseen in the proposed European Directive, presented in April this year. Spanish regulators have a historic chance not only to establish an effective framework to counter endemic corruption, but also to present themselves ahead of the European Union.