After the EU’s fierce debate over 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.
French MPs on Monday (6 June) began their examination of the draft bill for transparency and the modernisation of the economy, known as the Sapin 2 bill. Central to this bill is the question of how whistleblowers can be protected from prosecution.
Proposed by the French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin, this economic reform bill aims to lay the foundations for a whistleblower protection regime, with a certain number of safeguards against possible reprisals.
The initiative is timed to capitalise on the political momentum built up during the European discussions on the same topic. MEPs came in for heavy criticism when they adopted the European Trade Secrets Directive in April, over what many see as the inadequate protection the text offers whistleblowers.
With the dust not yet settled from the Panama Papers revelations, and coming as the trial of the Luxleaks whistleblower Antoine Deltour getting under way, the timing of the directive provoked widespread indignation from the public.
France’s Sapin 2 bill attempts to provide a legal definition of a whistleblower, which currently does not exist.
Based on the definition offered by the French Council of State in its April report on the right to raise the alarm on malpractice, a whistleblower could be defined as someone who “signals in good faith, freely and in the public interest, from inside or outside an organisation, serious breaches of the law or serious threats to public or private interests, for which he is not responsible”.
The idea of structuring the alert process was also raised by MPs at the committee stage of the discussions.
Under the solutions suggested, a whistleblower could raise the alarm directly to the administration or business concerned, but could also choose to pass through external authorities like the French Defender of Rights or professional associations. Only if no follow-up action is taken by any of these authorities could the whistleblower make their information public.
The French Rights Defender, whose independence is guaranteed under the country’s constitution, would become the authority of reference for the protection of whistleblowers, thanks to a separate bill proposed by the Socialist Party.
Finally, a system of financial support for whistleblowers should allow them to face any possible reprisals from companies or organisations exposed by their revelations. Damages may also be envisaged to compensate any material and moral harm suffered.
At the European level, the issue of whistleblower protection is struggling to make headway. The Council of the European Union on Friday (3 June) adopted the Trade Secrets Directive, which foresees an exception for those who reveal “misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity, […] in the public interest”.
But the absence of a legal definition for a whistleblower weakens the protection offered by this clause.
With no consensus on the legal definition at a European level, France is acting alone on the subject.