EU moves to protect whistle blowers from reprisals

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STRASBOURG (FRANCE): European Union negotiators said Tuesday they had struck a first bloc-wide provisional agreement aimed at protecting whistle blowers from reprisals following corporate scandals such as Dieselgate and Cambridge Analytica.

Negotiators from the European Parliament, European Commission and the European Council said the deal would boost the fight against fraud, corruption, corporate tax avoidance and damage to people’s health and the environment.

“We should protect whistleblowers from being punished, sacked, demoted or sued in court for doing the right thing for society,” said Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm.

“These new, EU-wide whistleblowers’ protection rules do exactly that and will make sure they can report in a safe way on breaches of EU law in many areas,” Timmermans said in a statement.

The agreement must still undergo legal review before being approved by the European Parliament and the European Council, which groups the member countries.

The Commission introduced the proposed legislation in April last year

The parliament said the deal amounts to the “first EU-wide protection for whistle-blowers,” allowing them to choose between internal and external reporting, for example to national or EU authorities.

It said the new rules will both “protect and encourage reporting of breaches of EU law”.

These potential breaches cover tax fraud, money laundering, public procurement, product and transport safety, environmental protection, public health, consumer protection and data protection.

The rules aim to ensure information disclosed remains confidential, the parliament said in a statement.

“The agreed text explicitly prohibits reprisals and introduces safeguards against a whistle-blower being suspended, demoted, intimidated or other forms of retaliation,” the parliament said.

The draft legislation will also protect those dealing with whistle blowers, including colleagues, relatives and investigative journalists, the parliament said.

It said EU member countries must offer whistle blowers “comprehensive and independent information” on how to report breaches and pursue their cases while providing them with legal, financial and psychological support.

Protection for whistle blowers is patchy across the bloc with only ten countries providing comprehensive legal protection: France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and Britain.

The Commission said whistle blowers have already played an important role in the Dieselgate scandal, where Volkswagen was discovered to have used devices to hide diesel emissions.

They also recalled how they helped expose the scandal at Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct British data consultancy accused of having harvested the data of millions of Facebook users without their permission.

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