European Parliament Advances Call for Whistleblower Protection

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By Joe Kirwin

The European Parliament’s push for whistleblower legal protections—part of a clamp down on tax evasion—advanced when a legal affairs committee approved a resolution demanding legislation by the end of 2017.

Noting that LuxLeaks and the Panama Papers tax evasion scandals occurred thanks to whistleblowers, including several who have been prosecuted, the European Parliament panel Oct. 2 backed a resolution by a vote of 17-1, which includes a call for support funds, protection against retaliation, and independent EU and national bodies to verify and guide whistleblowers.

“Whistle-blowers deserve support, not punishment for their revelations that have helped to defend the European public interest already in many occasions,” Sven Giegold, a German parliamentarian from the European Green Party, said in an Oct. 3 email statement to Bloomberg BNA.

He noted that the Panama Papers and the Luxleaks underlined the need to reverse the burden of proof away from the shoulders of the whistle-blower towards the employers.

“Furthermore it is an essential advantage to base such strong European rights for those who speak up in the interest of the weak on the firm basis of a horizontal regulation with the broadest possible legal basis in the EU treaties,” Giegold said.

National Legislation Insufficient

Supporters of protection for whistleblowers insist that EU legislation is needed because measures at the EU-member nation level aren’t consistent or comprehensive.

Despite the lopsided approval in the Legal Affairs committee, which follows on from a positive tally in the Committee for Economic and Monetary Affairs in September, final approval must come on Oct. 23 when the institution’s General Assembly will vote. And that vote isn’t certain due to opposition from members of the institution’s largest political group, the European People’s Party.

“The EPP defends the principle of the integrity of the national legal systems,” EPP Spokesman Daniel Koster told Bloomberg BNA in an Oct. 3 email statement. “Before taking action, we want the European Commission to make a thorough assessment of any possible legal basis for an EU whistle blower protection first. Any possible EU action must be in line with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Commission Consultation

The European Commission launched a public consultation on the matter earlier in 2017, along with an economic impact assessment.

According to a document published as part of the consultation, EU legislation would require member states to “properly investigate the reports and disclosures whilst ensuring the confidentiality of the identity of the whistle-blower as well as the protection of dignity, personal data and the respect of the rights of defense of the persons implicated including business rights where applicable.”

Commission officials told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 3 they are still analyzing the results of the public consultation on whistle-blowers and no decision has been taken on whether there will be “horizontal” legislation in the form of a directive nor has a specific date been set for when the proposal will be put forward.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joe Kirwin in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Penny Sukhraj at psukhraj@bna.com

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