The Council of Ministers of the European Union have agreed on new measures to protect whistleblowers throughout the EU.
The new directive, which was approved by the European Parliament last March, was formalised on Monday at a meeting of EU justice ministers.
The directive will ensure a high level of protection for whistleblowers in a wide range of sectors, including public procurement, financial services, money laundering, product and transport safety, nuclear safety, public health, consumer protection and data protection.
Companies with more than 50 employees, cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants and public bodies will be required to put in place channels and procedures for whistleblowers to come forward safely.
The law explicitly prohibits reprisals and introduces safeguards to prevent those who make a report being suspended, demoted and intimidated or face other forms of retaliation. Those who assist informants will also be protected.
The rules will also apply to national administrations, which must establish external and independent notification channels.
Whistleblowers are “encouraged to use internal channels first” within their organisation, but “will not lose the protection they receive if they decide to use external channels first and foremost,” the EU said in a statement on Monday.
The new rules require authorities and businesses to respond to whistleblower reporting within 3 months and provide protection for those who help whistleblowers.
A 2017 study carried out for the Commission estimated the loss of potential benefits due to a lack of whistle-blower 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.
“The EU is committed to having a well functioning democratic system based on the rule of law,” said Finnish Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson, whose country holds the presidency of the EU.
“That includes providing a high level of protection across the Union to those whistle-blowers who have the courage to speak up. No one should risk their reputation or job for exposing illegal behaviours,” Henriksson added
The directive will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the ‘Official Journal’ of the EU and the Member States will have two years to transpose it to into their legal systems.