European Union presents draft Directive on whistleblower protection

In one of the most important steps towards the recognition and support of European whistleblowers, the European Commission today presented their draft proposal for a European Directive on Whistleblower Protection. In a joint press conference with Commissioner for Justice and Consumer Protection Vera Jourova, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans proudly pointed out that the European Commission was «deeply committed» to an issue that would not only enforce EU law, but also protect citizens and strengthen democracy all over the European Union. The proposal comes not only as a response to a number of scandalous conditions in the public interest revealed by whistleblowers such as the Panama Papers, Dieselgate and the Cambridge Analytica affair, but also the recent murder of two investigative journalists in the European Union. 

«The law has no value if it is not respected, and if we don´t take every possible measure to ensure laws are enforced, we´re letting down the citizens we are duty-bound to protect», commented Timmermans on the long-awaited draft proposal. He further stated that the Directive would exercise a «sanitary effect on the way organizations work», and called upon European Parliament as well as Council to support the initiative. While the European Parliament had already adopted a report on legitimate measures to protect whistleblowers in the European Union, the position of the Council so far is less clear: A significant number of European Member States is still reluctant to introduce comprehensive whistleblower protection laws. 

Indeed, the current proposal is quite an ambitious project. While full horizontal protection of wrongdoing in the public interest in line with international standards cannot be covered within the scope of EU legislation, the draft still goes much further than many observers expected: Beyond reports on breaches on protecting the financial interests of the European Union as well as the function of the single market, it also covers disclosures of information on environmental, nuclear, transport, product and food safety, protection of privacy and personal data, consumer protection, competition as well as public health. The draft also includes a wide definition of whistleblowers and covers all sectors, it foresees the establishment of a wide range of disclosure channels and allows for external disclosures if necessary, ensures legislative reviews, guarantees confidentiality, and introduces an obligation to inform whistleblowers about the status of their report. Not covered at all is the issue of anonymous reporting — which in many Member States is expected to be exempt from protected disclosures. 

Regardless, the proposed draft constitutes a big step in the right direction, and we call upon European lawmakers to confirm their committment to fostering democratic principles and transparency by adopting the proposal. 

Photo: Reuters