Members of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee have adopted measures to ensure that the Trade Secrets bill does not weaken the right to freedom of information. EURACTIV France reports.
European lawmakers are attempting to combine increased protection for trade secrets with existing freedom of information laws.
The proposed “Trade Secrets Directive”, which has come in for strong criticism from civil society organisations and journalists, was amended yesterday (16 June) by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee.
A report on the bill by French MEP Constance Le Grip (European People’s Party), was adopted by 19 votes in favour to 2 against and 3 abstentions. The report has mollified some who saw the bill as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Opponents of the bill claim that it undermines freedom of information laws by allowing businesses to prosecute journalists or whistle-blowers who reveal confidential information. French MPs voiced their opposition to the proposed directive in a vote on Tuesday (9 June).
“We have made considerable alterations and improvements to the initial text, because it is absolutely crucial to protect basic freedoms and guarantee the full right of freedom of information,” Le Grip said.
The alterations are designed to provide increased legal protection for journalists, whistle-blowers and employees that reveal illegal or questionable practices taking place in their company.
The addition of an explicit mention of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is among the changes adopted by the JURI committee.
On press freedom, Le Grip tried to give assurances, saying:
“We have expressly stated in article 1 that the directive must in now way affect the freedom of the press.”
“There are sufficient safeguards that no lawyer in the world would advise their client to sue a journalist based on the Trade Secrets Directive. We tend to think, for example, that the proposed directive would have protected the French journalist Édouard Perrin, who was prosecuted in Luxembourg for breaking the LuxLeaks scandal.”
Burden of proof
But this optimism is not universal.
French Green MEP Pascal Durand expressed his regret that “the few improvements we have made have not changed the essence of this bill: to make secrecy the norm and transparency the exception”.
He also pointed out that the “burden of proof” still resides with the journalists and whistle-blowers.
This concept is hard to reconcile with the journalistic practice of protecting sources, which is systematically supported by the European Court of Human Rights.
The text will now be discussed in a trilogue between the three European institutions ahead of the first reading in Parliament.
The directive was proposed by the European Commission in 2013, and aims to protect European companies from the theft of trade secrets, including technologies and manufacturing techniques. This phenomenon is becoming increasingly common among innovative SMEs, according to the European Commission.
But the EU’s objective of protecting the interests of European companies was quickly called into question, as critics saw the Trade Secrets Directive as a considerable threat to the work of investigative journalists and other whistle-blowers.
Pressure on MEPs was turned up a notch, with the launch of a petition against the directive earlier this month. So far, the petition, organised by the French journalist Elise Lucet, has collected well over 300,000 signatures.