EU Parliament gears up to vote on controversial trade secrets directive

Greens/EFA group slammed the decision, saying more provisions must be made to protect whistleblowers.

By Martin Banks

08 Apr 2016

Draft rules designed to help businesses obtain legal redress against the theft or misuse of their trade secrets are up for a final vote in Parliament next week.

The plenary vote comes amid the ongoing fallout from the Panama Papers scandal which has already claimed the scalp of Iceland's Prime Minister and threatens to engulf UK Premier David Cameron.

MEPs say they have inserted safeguards to ensure that the controversial directive on trade secrets will not restrict the work of journalists or deter whistle-blowing.


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But, despite this, the text has been widely condemned by rights groups and some political parties.

Critics say the planned new rules makes the definition of trade secrets "so broad" and allows companies so much discretion "that they are able to decide, on their own, which information they want to keep out of public view."

The Greens/EFA group said in a statement that, "The protections afforded to company secrets are so strong that they apply to the whole of society, and not just competitors. 

"This makes it much harder for journalists and whistleblowers to make information such as the Panama Papers publicly available, as the threat of being dragged through court would be even greater that it already is."

The Greens/EFA group unsuccessfully requested a postponement of the vote, arguing that the protections for companies awarded by the directive "need to be balanced with high levels of protection for public interest disclosures."

"We expressed our regret about the Commission's lack of action when it comes to protecting whistleblowers, despite the European Parliament's repeated calls for a directive," said their statement.

"However, our motion to delay the adoption of the directive was voted against by all groups except for the EFDD, and GUE/NGL which abstained."

In response, the Greens/EFA group says it will launch their own proposal for a whistleblower directive on 4 May.

A Greens source told this website, "Several groups in Parliament have been calling for an EU directive to protect those who blow the whistle and expose wrong-doing in their organisations from unfair retaliation and abuse in the workplace, but so far the European Commission has been reluctant to act."

Elsewhere, a coalition of civil society groups, citizens and journalists have asked MEPs to reject the directive when they meet in Strasbourg next week.

They say it creates excessive rights to secrecy for businesses and is a direct threat to the work of journalists and their sources, whistle blowers, workers' freedom of expression, and rights to access public interest information on everything from medicines and pesticides to car emissions.

Ahead of the parliamentary debate and vote on the issue on April 13, the pan-European coalition sent to MEPs a critical analysis of the proposed legislation, asking them to throw it out. 

The coalition has also launched a petition against the text.

Meanwhile, in the light of recent revelations about owners of some 200,000 Panama off-shore letterbox companies, Parliament will next week debate the efficiency of existing measures to address the issue.

These include steps such as the anti-money laundering directive and responses to its recent recommendations to step up the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance.

 

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