EU negotiators have approved a directive protecting whistleblowers who report issues such as fraud and tax evasion by authorities or corporations.
The agreement, between the three governing structures of the EU – the parliament, the Commission and the Council, was reached on Monday after several months of negotiations.
The directive will establish a three-tier reporting system encompassing internal reporting channels, reporting to competent authorities and channels for reporting fraud to the media in case “no appropriate action” is taken, or in cases of “clear or imminent danger to the public interest…”
The directive also forbids “all forms of retaliation” against whistleblowers and calls for access to be provided to “free advice and adequate remedies,” in such cases.
Finding a consensus on the appropriate means for reporting wrongdoing proved the most difficult part of the discussions. Several governments wanted to make the process as strict as possible, only offering protection to whistleblowers if they first make an internal report within their company or organisation.
This was strongly opposed by transparency campaigners, who started a petition – which was signed by 250,000 people – to have the limiting provision removed. After a long battle between the European Parliament and the EU governments, the directive now provides for whistleblowers to be protected regardless of whether they first report it internally or with the competent external authorities.
As part of the compromise, companies with more than 50 employees and public bodies will be required to put in place channels and procedures for whistleblowers to come forward safely.
Transparency International welcomed hat it called “a pathbreaking piece of legislation that will help protect whistleblowers around Europe.”
“Today is a historic day for those wish to expose corruption and wrongdoing” said Nick Aiossa, Senior Policy Officer at Transparency International EU, “Whistleblowers in the EU, like Howard Wilkinson, the Danske Bank whistleblower, have spent far too long facing unjust retaliation for speaking out. It is quite an accomplishment that negotiations between the institutions have come to a positive end.”
The interim agreement must now be voted by both the Council and the European Parliament, which should take place before the next elections at the end of May. Once the text has been adopted, each Member State will then have to transpose it into national law.