PANA & JURI: Whistleblowing on the Agenda

The struggle to protect whistleblowers across the EU has reached the next level. On Wednesday, 21 June, members of both the Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA) as well as the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) gathered in Brussels to discuss the potential of a European Directive on whistleblower protection. It’s been almost a year since the issue gained significant momentum within the European Parliament, and most recently, the debate is becoming quite technical.

One of the main concerns among the involved politicians remains the question of a legal basis: The determining factor for the introduction of a comprehensive Directive will be whether the European treaties allow for it – if no legal basis can be found, the principle of subsidiarity outweighs possible pan-European interests in protecting whistleblowers. In the past months, the attempt to find entry points within the EU framework has caused a lot of headache, particularly amongst Socialist and Green parliamentarians. Many conservatives, however, may have regarded this problem rather relaxed: They consider a horizontal Directive, applicable to all employment sectors, as too invasive with regards to the interests of nation states and private sector employers.

Further considerations in the discussion are focused on specific aspects that may or may not be included in future legislation: How should a whistleblower be defined in order to reach the broadest possible range of protection without making the legislation prone to abuse? What kind of oversight can be established that is justifiable within the availability of European funds? And is the burden of proof in cases of doubt a priori reversable? 

French Socialist Virginie Rozière, amongst others, repeatedly stretched the importance to tackle the issue on a European level in order to grant equal protection to all citizens within the Union. More and more employers in Europe are distributed over the entire continent, creating a more difficult and complex environment for whistleblowers as ever before. Rozière, JURI’s rapporteur and one of the most engaged advocates of whistleblower protection on EU level, is currently preparing her recommendations for a comprehensive Directive which will be presented in July. After the proposed Directive from the European Greens, this would already be the second concrete suggestion to enact legislation.

All in all, these are promising developments — but it is still a long road to go, as the parliament remains only the first hurdle to be overcome in the process. Joint efforts of policy makers as well as civil society in the near future will have to be increasingly focused on the European Commission, which so far has shown rather cautious enthusiasm in the issue.