MEPs call for better protection of whistle-blowers

Written by Martin Banks on 4 May 2016 in News
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MEPs attending a hearing also blasted EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager for failing to appear at LuxLeaks whistle-blower's trial.

European competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has been condemned for failing to appear as a witness at the trial of Antoine Deltour, the whistle-blower who revealed secret tax rulings between the Luxembourg authorities and multinationals that led to the so-called 'LuxLeaks' scandal.

A hearing in Parliament on Wednesday heard that Vestager, a former MEP, had declined an invitation to appear in the trial in which Deltour faces a possible prison sentence.

The trial stems from a complaint brought by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deltour's former employer.


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Sven Giegold, a Greens/EFA group deputy who himself appeared as a witness at the trial last week, told the hearing, "This is the largest tax scandal in European history and it is really poor show for a Commissioner not to speak in defence of one of the people who helped expose it."

He added, "While I remain hopeful he will get a fair trial, I have to say that when I was in court the judge did not appear to be very friendly towards Deltour."

In a video message to the hearing, the French-born Deltour, whose trial in Luxembourg continued on Wednesday, said that as whistle-blowers often exposed things of a supranational interest, it was necessary to have EU-wide standardised laws to protect them.

He believes whistle-blowers should remain anonymous, be offered legal support and advice and entitled to compensation for economic losses they incur.

He also called for the creation of an independent body to rule on the legal immunity in whistle-blowing cases.

He was speaking at the launch of a draft directive, which demands that whistle-blowers be protected from retaliation, including prosecution.

The directive, an initiative of the Greens/EFA group in Parliament, also says whistle-blowers should be exempt from disciplinary proceedings and other forms of reprisal, such as demotion.

Protection should extend to those who divulge in accurate information in honest error and to both current and former workers, including trainees, in both the public and private sectors.

Laws should also be enacted, it states, which give whistle-blowers the possible right to compensation.

The event comes days after MEPs backed the new EU trade secrets directive, which campaigners say will make life harder for whistle-blowers.

According to a survey by Transparency International (TI), only four member states currently have domestic legislation on the protection of whistle-blowers.

Carl Dolan, of TI, told the hearing, "Ironically, these include Luxembourg, the country of the Luxleaks scandal."

Dolan condemned the "political inertia" which had prevented other member states from enacting similarly advanced rules, adding, "In many cases, legal protection to whistle-blowers is simply not sufficient."

He also said that people who divulged information that was in the public interest were too often derided as a "snitch" or "informant."

Opening the half-day debate, Greens deputy Julia Reda said she found it hard to accept that Deltour was on trial for his role in revealing wrongdoing.

The German member said, "Deltour should be protected and commended, not prosecuted. The information he disclosed was in the public interest."

She said, "That's why we cannot sit idly by and wait for the Commission to table a directive on this. There is clearly a need for better protection for people like Deltour who choose to tell inconvenient truths. What's needed is a change in culture and law."

Another speaker, David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, said whistle-blowing such as that in the LuxLeaks and Panama Papers cases should be promoted and protected.

He added, "Lawmakers should also stop demonising whistle-blowers, who should be guaranteed protection from prosecution and retaliation."

His comments were echoed by Frederic St-Martin, of the public sector integrity division at the OECD, who highlighted a survey by the organisation which showed that 15 per cent of OECD members had no legislation to protect whistle-blowers. 

However, he cautioned that allowing whistle-blowers to remain anonymous could encourage unreliable disclosure and make them less accountable.

Further contribution came from Philippe Krantz, of the Council of Europe, who told the packed hearing that there was a growing recognition that whistle-blowers had the right to better legal protection.

 

About the author

Martin Banks is a journalist for the Parliament Magazine

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