Supporting People who Speak Out

EU Parliament

Euro Parliament Strengthens Proposed Whistleblower Protections

The European Parliament’s JURI committee has voted on a set of amendments to its draft whistleblower law that go a long way towards providing protections and standards that Blueprint for Free Speech and others have been pressing its members to include.

In April, the European Commission surprised us all by unveiling a comprehensive draft whistleblower directive. Since then, we have been arguing that the Commission’s proposals in their entirety need to be brought in line with international standards which should take into account the lessons learned from how existing laws (in many countries) have operated in practice.

The draft directive was broad in both material scope, which took in most aspects of the Single Market, and in its personal scope, giving individuals in a wide range of work-related relationships entitlements to protection. It stipulated not only a strong prohibition of retaliatory measures against whistleblowers, but also common standards for acknowledging and responding to their concerns.

We noted at the time that the draft marked an important step towards effective whistleblower protection globally, but it was by no means perfect. The April draft omitted important issues, like the ability of whistleblowers to report issues anonymously, and contained distinctly sub-optimal provisions on critical matters like reporting channels.

Seven months later, the JURI committee has voted on a set of amendments that go a long way towards achieving those aims. In particular, we’re pleased to see progress on the following issues:

In the Commission’s original draft, certain categories of whistleblowers were obliged to use internal reporting channels before they could go to an external regulator, the JURI committee has now decided that internal and external channels should be on the same level.

We also had concerns about the very limited scope for whistleblowers to go to the media in the Commission’s draft.  The JURI committee has agreed on more inclusive language that means that whistleblowers can exercise their own judgement about whether a report needs to be brought to public attention.

One of the most significant omissions of the original draft was that it did not say anything about protections for reports that are made anonymously. JURI’s text now includes specific duties for those who receive anonymous reports to follow up on them and to make sure that whistleblowers who act anonymously are entitled to the same protections as everyone else.

A troubling aspect of the original draft was in its stipulation of sanctions for “malicious reports”, a dangerously open-ended provision that could have chilled potential whistleblowers and undermined the entire exercise. After the JURI vote this clause only applies where “knowingly false” reports are made, reports which by definition are not entitled to be protected.

We also highlighted that the original draft offered no protection for national security whistleblowers. This is a difficult issue to tackle on the EU level, but we are pleased to see that the new draft makes the specific point that security clearances cannot be withdrawn as a means of retaliating against whistleblowers.

In our opinion, this is a much stronger text, which has benefited from civil society input and is now largely compliant with international standards for whistleblower protection. The new proposals promise to significantly improve the situation for whistleblowers in almost all EU member states and open the door for the introduction of further protections in areas which lie outside of the EU’s competencies.

We encourage MEPs to endorse the JURI report when it comes before the entire Parliament in the next few weeks.