In the wake of massive money laundering and tax evasion scandals hitting some of Europe’s biggest banks, Blueprint Greece has joined civil society groups and trade unions to present petitions with more than 250,000 signatures to a European Parliament Rapporteur backing her call for stronger protections for whistleblowers.
Virginie Rozière, a French EU lawmaker recommended lifting a requirement that whistleblowers must first report wrongdoing through channels in their organizations to let them pick other audiences and watchdogs, including the media.
“People across Europe are telling the European Parliament they want strong protection for whistleblowers in a new European Directive. This has come from the ground up – hopefully the European Council and Commission are listening to these voices as they consider whether to weaken the draft directive currently under consideration,” said Suelette Dreyfus, head of the Melbourne-based Blueprint for Free Speech, which promotes transparency said.
Blueprint Greece is a branch that was set up to reveal stories about wrongdoing in the country and across the EU and has picked up a wide following, including in the United States and other countries.
Despite the scandals, the EU has been reluctant to provide more safeguards for whistleblowers or step up cross-collaboration between countries to let law enforcement authorities work with each other better to uncover money laundering.
The biggest obstacle is that Germany and France insist that internal reporting should be a mandatory first step for whistleblowers, which Blueprint and those supporting Roziere said could effectively drive away people who want to report wrongdoing, fearful of retaliation.
Roziere said if the European Council, the heads of the 28 EU countries, persist in wanting internal reporting initially be required before whistleblowers seek other avenues of redress that, “Either the negotiations will fail or everyone will denounce a cosmetic text,” Politico said.
“Trade unions and NGOs fighting corruption would rather have no text at all than mandatory internal reporting, which would leave whistleblowers worse off,” said Roziere, in charge of presenting the file to the 751 EU Parliament lawmakers.
MEPs, the news site said, want a two-step reporting procedure for whistleblowers, who they say should be able to report breaches of EU law via either an internal channel within the company or directly to an external competent authority — and then, if relevant, to the general public.
MEPs who would vote on protecting whistleblowers are allowed to keep secret how they spent a monthly allotment of 4,416 euros ($5024) for operational expenses and fiercely fought attempts
The European Commission – whose President, Jean-Claude Juncker, was Prime Minister of Luxembourg when the country gave international corporations banking there privileges that critics said allowed them to evade taxes – proposed protection after that scandal was revealed by a whistleblower, as well as the Panama Papers disclosures.
The last scheduled negotiations on the proposal were set for the night of March 4 between the EU Council and Parliament to decide what it would include, anxious to get it done before May 26 elections MEPs are facing.
The petitioners produced a paper with their arguments, chief among them that mandatory internal reporting will increase retaliation by requiring whistleblowers to expose themselves as threats to bad faith or corrupt organizations.
“The first law of retaliation is to discredit the whistleblower, through a retaliatory investigation or anything else that will distract from the message. Mandatory internal reporting creates a three to six month window to attack and discredit whistleblowers before they can even contact authorities,” they added.
“The unnecessary provision for mandatory preliminary reports would produce a chilling effect that could thwart essential warnings to law enforcement, regulatory authorities and the public … mandatory internal reporting would undermine the directive’s goal by increasing the opportunities for retaliation and enabling obstruction of justice,” they added.
They said that many people are fearful of reprisals, including losing their jobs and that “many employees will only blow the whistle once. If all must engage in mandatory internal reporting, many justifiably will feel that they have done their duty and are finished. This would create a structure that institutionalizes obstruction of justice,” they said of initial internal reporting.
If an enterprise is corrupt – no bankers have been prosecuted while the CEO of Barclay’s Bank who tried to unmask a whistleblower in violation of the bank’s own standards was fined but not fired – supporters of stronger protections said that mandatory internal requirement gives an advantage to those responsible for misconduct, who will be given a monopoly of knowledge about incriminating evidence, plus ample time for a cover-up.
“This includes time to destroy documents, intimidate witnesses, and generally make the crime unrealistic to prosecute,” they said, adding that the Council Directive undermines whistleblower communications with the media and the public affected by illegality or abuses of power.
In Greece, three whistleblowers, two of whom remain secret, charged that 10 rival politicians of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA took bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis but no evidence has been presented yet, although the case rattled the political landscape hard.