Today, the Whistleblowing International Network (WIN) welcomes the news that the EU has reached an agreement that gives European whistleblowers a fighting chance to survive when they speak up in the public interest.
After tough negotiations, the provisional agreement reached late last night in Strasbourg finally removes the hierarchy of reporting obligations that would have obliged people to report to their employer’s first or risk losing all protection against dismissal or other retaliatory actions - even if they reported sensibly to a regulator body. The Directive will set minimum standards for protection that people can rely on to shield them from retaliatory actions when they speak up about wrongdoing in their workplace, to the authorities, or to the public (via the media).
WIN and its Members worked in coalition with unions, human rights organisations, journalist associations and other NGOs, and provided as much of its long expertise defending whistleblowers through the courts and in the public arena as it could.
During negotiations, civil society delivered petitions with 280,000 signatures that demanded that whistleblowers be granted protection if they report directly outside their employment first.
The Parliament, the Commission, the EU Council and Ministers of Justice in all 28 Member States heard consistent messages from legal experts, NGOs, unions, whistleblowers and professional associations as well. The Council of Europe (the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights; the Head of the Secretariat for the Group of States Against Corruption); the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, and the OSCE Representative for Media Freedom, Harlem Desir were amongst those calling for flexible reporting channels.
Ultimately, these voices could not be ignored!
We are delighted that Virginie Rozière, MEP (S&D) and lead negotiator for the European Parliament, stood her ground. She and her colleagues fought long and hard to ensure that Europe lived up to its commitment to make it easier, not more dangerous, for whistleblowers. Germany and France, two of the strongest opponents to flexible reporting channels were not able to maintain their blocking minority in the EU Council.
“Protecting whistleblowers in law and in practice is finally being recognised and understood for what it really is - democracy in action!” said Anna Myers, Executive Director of WIN. Calling the agreement a collective commitment to upholding European values and fundamental rights, Anna said, “when battles are too often won by those who want to control information for private interests, this victory for the citizen’s right to speak up in the public interest is critical”.
While we know certain provisions should have been stronger and that our work to ensure whistleblowers are supported in reality is far from over, this Directive will at last provide a shared foundation for legal protections across Europe.
Over the next few days, the text will be scrutinised and finalised. We will all need to remain vigilant but we hope that by April 2019, the European Union will have made a huge step forward by adopting a Directive to protect whistleblowers that will make a positive difference to all our lives.
12th March 2019