WIN Press release – New EU Directive on whistleblower protection


An international network of whistleblower protection NGOs calls on EU governments to adopt both the spirit and detail of the new EU whistleblower protection directive in their national legal frameworks, or risk further scandals and disasters that undermine public confidence in their ability to promote and safeguard the public interest.

Yesterday (16 April 2019), the European Parliament voted in an overwhelming majority to adopt a new law to protect European whistleblowers. The EU has raised the bar for all EU governments to lead the world in promoting gold standard protections for whistleblowers who raise concerns about wrongdoing or abusive practices that affect us all – whether in our how money is handled in financial institutions, the quality and safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the trains and planes we travel on and the care of our elderly and vulnerable.

Landmark cases such as #LuxLeaks and #PanamaPapers have revealed how scandals that start in one country quickly spread to others, as the range of actors involved and the jurisdictions affected are revealed. Similarly, the European tainted-egg scandal started in the summer of 2017 in the Netherlands and Belgium and by 11 August, the European Commission announced that a total of 15 EU states, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong, were known to have received egg products contaminated by an insecticide harmful to human health.

WIN, whose NGO members advise, defend, and protect whistleblowers, has advocated for years for better legal and institutional protections in all European countries. The need for the EU to act across all 28 member states became more urgent and obvious as whistleblowers increasingly revealed serious corruption and the harm caused by wrongdoing and negligence that was no longer contained by national borders.

The EU legislation follows campaigning by WIN in a wider coalition organised by Eurocadres (association of unions) that included Transparency International Europe and journalist and press freedom organisations. The ground-breaking legislation must become national law across all EU members by May 2021.

WIN’s Executive Director and lawyer, Anna Myers, highlights the hard work of civil society, “We came together with different skill sets and missions from across Europe to advocate for stronger legal protections for whistleblowers and yesterday we got it!”

“But we also know that there has been reluctance, lack of understanding, and from our long experience in the field, often a determination to block whistleblower protection from being the progressive, democratic accountability mechanism it should be,” she said. “We still have our work cut out for us. The EU Directive is not perfect. WIN will continue to support civil society to collaborate across borders to ensure EU governments live up to both the detail and the spirit of the law.” 

Three positives:

  1. A requirement on all organisations in the private sector with more than 50 employees and all public sector bodies to introduce internal channels and procedures for whistleblowing, including protecting their confidentiality and providing feedback. There are few if any obligations on employers in EU Member States (outside of regulated sectors such as Financial Services) to have any whistleblowing arrangements. This simple change would make it easier for workers across the EU to find a route to speak up and stop harm sooner, whatever sector they work in.

  2. New provisions to protect whistleblowers from liability. Under the EU directive, whistleblowers are immune from incurring civil liability of any kind, provided that they had reasonable grounds for whistleblowing. People will be able to blow the whistle without fear that their employer will come after them for breach of confidence, defamation, data protection and copyright breaches among others. They are also immune from liability from acquiring information that they disclose so long as its acquisition does not constitute a self-standing criminal offence.

  3. Introduction of legal aid for whistleblowers. Currently there is no legal aid for whistleblowers seeking to bring claims to protect their jobs or to defend themselves against retaliatory legal claims against them. Too many whistleblowers cannot find or afford the legal advice or representation that allows them to successfully defend themselves, or even better, to prevent legal escalation of their situation.

WIN will be working with its members, associates and coalition partners to ensure the national transposition of the Directive that must be made by 2021 across the EU Member States results in even stronger and more progressive laws to protect whistleblowers.

17th April 2019