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11/12/2016

French lawmakers protect whistleblowers, urge EU to follow suit

Justice & Home Affairs

French lawmakers protect whistleblowers, urge EU to follow suit

Virginie Rozière is the European Parliament's rapporteur on whistleblower protection.

[European Parliament]

French MPs on Tuesday (8 November) voted to strengthen legal protection for whistleblowers, as MEPs pushed the Commission to take action at European level. EurActiv France reports.

The whistleblower protection measures, which were part of Economy and Finance Minister Michel Sapin’s transparency and economic modernisation bill, will provide legal protection to people who reveal corporate secrets in the public interest. They were the subject of heated debate in both chambers of the French parliament.

European protection?

But as the debate draws to a close in Paris, it is just getting started in Brussels, where the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee this week presented an own-initiative report on whistleblower protection.

The report is the work of two French MEPs, Virginie Rozière of the Radical Left Party (S&D group) and Jean-Marie Cavada of Génération Citoyens (ALDE group). While it is in no way binding on the European executive, the report aims to pave the way for legislation on the subject to be enacted quickly.

Trade secrets: Whistleblower protection not a priority

The Trade Secrets Directive is out of the starting blocks, but the creation of a protected ‘whistleblower’ status may take some time. EurActiv France reports.

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Whistleblower protection was introduced for the first time at European level with the adoption of the trade secrets directive. But while the directive laid the foundations of a common system, the bloc stopped short of creating a common legal status, deeming that this was not an EU competence.

Shifting attitudes in member states

Originally reluctant to take a stance on whistleblower protection, the EU’s member states finally agreed to ask the Commission to push ahead on the subject.

On 11 October, EU economy ministers recognised that “the protection of whistleblowers is important” and called on the commission to “start reflecting on the possibility for future exchange of such information between tax administrations in the EU”.

The EU executive launched a study of the legal basis and the possibility of a legislative proposal on whistleblowers last spring. “It is weak, but the situation has evolved since last year,” Rozière told EurActiv.fr.

Virginie Rozière: 'We need whistleblowers'

The conviction of the three whistleblowers that broke the LuxLeaks scandal should serve as a trigger for the EU to establish a European system of whistleblower protection, Virginie Rozière told EurActiv France.

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A large majority of MEPs are today in favour of harmonising whistleblower status across the EU, and they intend to push the Commission to act on the subject.

Protection against false claims

“We need a trustworthy organisation at European level to oversee the whistleblowing process,” said Rozière. And the establishment of a European authority for the protection of whistleblowers is being considered as a real possibility.

France to strengthen whistleblower protection in economic reform bill

After the EU’s fierce debate whistleblower protection, France has proposed a much tighter set of safeguards in its draft bill for transparency and the modernisation of the economy. EurActiv France reports.

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“From the moment a claim is validated by the independent authority, the burden of proof must be inverted and the confidentiality of the whistleblower guaranteed,” she added.

Guaranteeing the rule of law

The creation of an independent European authority could help rule out the many false claims made against companies, which discredit the genuine ones. “That is why we need a European authority to guarantee that whistleblowers are acting in good faith.”

A future European authority would also have the benefit of guaranteeing equal treatment for whistleblowers in all EU member states. This is a necessary precaution in a political context where “the notion of the rule of law is not the same right across Europe,” said Rozière.

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