Europe agrees on protection rules for whistleblowers

Europe is one step closer to setting up for the first time EU-wide rules to protect whistleblowers.

The European Parliament, the Commission and the Romanian presidency representing EU countries reached an agreement overnight in Strasbourg, after several weeks of tense negotiations.

“Member countries finally heard all the calls for this text. We had to fight for the final agreement to live up to expectations,” the Parliament’s lead negotiator, French Socialist Virginie Rozière, said in a statement.

The European Commission in April last year put forward a legislative proposal to protect whistleblowers in the aftermath of scandals such as LuxLeaks or the Panama Papers that shed light on large-scale corporate and individual tax avoidance schemes.

The text grants protection to individuals reporting breaches of EU laws in a wide range of fields, from food and product safety to violation of corporate tax rules.

Negotiations were almost derailed twice because of disagreements between the European Parliament and national governments: first when the Council’s legal service recommended excluding fiscal matters from the scope, then when EU powerhouses such as France and Germany insisted internal reporting of breaches of EU laws should be a mandatory first step for whistleblowers.

Monday evening, the European Parliament had the last word and internal reporting — while encouraged — is not a pre-condition for whistleblowers to be protected, Rozière said.

Overall, the legislation also ensures that organizations and companies set safe reporting channels and people reporting breaches are protected from retaliation, such as dismissal or demotion, and in judicial proceedings.

“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,” European Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová said.

The political agreement still has to be green-lit by EU countries and the European Parliament’s plenary session.

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