Whistleblowers across the European Union have won greater protection under landmark legislation aimed at encouraging reports of wrongdoing. This is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection.
Currently, only 10 EU countries (France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and UK) provide comprehensive legal protection. In the remaining countries, protection is only partial or applies to specific sectors or categories of employee.
The new law, approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. The law was approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions.
It also creates “safe channels” to allow them to report breaches of EU law. If no appropriate action is taken or in cases where reporting to the authorities would not work, whistleblowers are now permitted to make a public disclosure including by speaking to the media.
The law protects whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of punishment.
National authorities are required to train officials in how to deal with whistle-blowers under the legislation.
The rules have previously been in the hands of member states, resulting in a range of vastly different approaches.
Recent scandals, from LuxLeaks to Panama Papers, have demonstrated how important whistleblowers’ revelations are to detect and prevent breaches of EU law harmful to the public interest and the welfare of society. Lack of effective whistleblower protection at EU level can also negatively impact the functioning of EU policies in a member state, but can also spill over to other countries and the EU as a whole.
A 2017 study carried out for the Commission estimated the loss of potential benefits due to a lack of whistleblower protection, in public procurement alone, to be in the range of €5.8 to €9.6 billion each year for the EU as a whole.