At his hearing with MEPs investigating the Panama Papers scandal on Tuesday (30 May), the European Commission president promised to present a bill to improve and harmonise the protection of whistleblowers across the EU, a subject on which the block is divided. EURACTIV France reports.
Whistleblower protection is on the Commission’s radar. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promised rapid progress on the subject when he appeared before MEPs on Tuesday to give evidence on his role in developing Luxembourg’s tax evasion industry.
“The Commission is working on a proposal to better protect whistleblowers and you will hear more about this in the months to come,” he said.
In recent years, whistleblowers have brought to light successive scandals involving industrial-scale tax evasion. In the case of the Panama Papers, these remained anonymous, while in the case of Luxleaks, their identities were known and they were pursued and prosecuted by the state.
In both cases, the information leaked to newspapers allowed considerable progress to be made in the fight against tax evasion and unfair competition in Europe.
Disparities between member states’ rules governing whistleblower protection mean some are left with no protection at all. Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet, the whistleblowers behind the Luxleaks revelations, are a prime example. They are accused of having leaked thousands of documents regarding the tax practices of big multinationals based in the Grand Duchy.
In March this year, Luxembourg’s appeal court handed Deltour a six-month suspended prison sentence and a €1,500 fine for document theft, while Halet received a €1,000 fine.
The Commission had already begun mulling a European framework for whistleblower protection by early March, launching a public consultation which closed on Monday (29 May).
This consultation followed repeated calls from MEPs for heightened protection, after the subject was broached in law for the first time in the EU’s trade secrets directive.
EU lawmakers in February backed a non-binding resolution calling for mechanisms to protect whistleblowers in companies, public institutions and non-profit organisations. They also proposed the establishment of an independent European body to support and advise whistleblowers.