By Ana Ollo

On 24 October, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to propose legislation protecting whistleblowers in the European Union (EU). The institution made a clear statement recognising the essential role that whistleblowers play in our society, as well as the need to protect them.

Whistleblowers fight for transparency, democracy and the rule of law, by reporting unlawful or improper conduct that undermine the public interest. They point out acts of corruption, criminal offences or conflicts of interest, which represent threats against our rights and freedoms.

Despite the importance of the role of whistleblowers in our society, they face various risks that can dissuade them from whistleblowing and from fulfilling our civic duty. The legislation of many EU Member States does not offer them protection nor the right to preserve their anonymity. In some cases, whistleblowers are subject to criminal or civil proceedings, or even face personal threats and harm. Consequently, EDRi has called several times for their effective protection, especially at the EU level, as did the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Transparency International, among other organisations.

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It is in this context that the European Parliament adopted its resolution on legitimate measures to protect whistleblowers acting in the public interest when disclosing the confidential information of companies and public bodies. It calls on the European Commission to propose an EU Directive by the end of 2017. The text should grant a high level of protection to whistleblowers, as well as incentivise others to contribute to the fight for transparency and accountability.

The resolution contains a broad definition of “whistleblower”, referring to anybody who reports information in the public interest. It calls on the Commission to establish a system allowing them to expose wrongdoing either within the organisation or directly to the appropriate public authorities, non-governmental organisations or the media. Regarding the protection offered, the Parliament defends whistleblowers’ right to anonymity and believes that retaliation against them should be “penalised and sanctioned effectively”. Furthermore, in case of alleged retaliatory actions, it establishes that employers shall provide evidence that their actions are not related to the report made by the whistleblower. It also calls on Member States to establish independent bodies to advise potential whistleblowers on their legal situation, and suggests creating a similar body at the EU level.

This resolution represents a first step towards an effective protection of whistleblowers throughout the European Union.

European Parliament Resolution (2016/2224(INI)) on legitimate measures to protect whistleblowers acting in the public interest (24.10.2017)
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P8-TA-2017-0402

Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)7 to member States on the protection of whistleblowers (30.04.2014)
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016805c5ea5

The EU must take action to protect whistleblowers” (31.05.2017)
https://edri.org/eu-must-take-action-protect-whistleblowers/

Protecting whistleblowers – protecting democracy (25.01.2017)
https://edri.org/protecting-whistleblowers-protecting-democracy/

Open letter to the to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union “The Trade Secrets Protection Directive Is Still Dangerous For Freedoms and Rights” (13.05.2016)
https://edri.org/files/trade_secrets_letter.pdf

(Contribution by Ana Ollo, EDRi intern)

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