With the Whistleblower Directive, the European Union (EU) introduced a Union-wide minimum standard for the protection of whistleblowers on 26 November 2019. The reader is faced with four questions: Who is Whistleblower? In which cases is the directive applied? What measures does the Directive provide for to protect whistleblowers? Why now?
Although the term whistleblower is often used in the recitals of the Directive, it is not defined. It consistently speaks of whistleblowers, i.e. natural persons who report violations of Union law (by analogy, the English text “reporting person”).
It should be noted that a minimum standard for the protection of whistleblowers has only been introduced with regard to reporting violations of Union law. Reporting a violation of the law of a member state is not covered by the Directive. It is up to the Member States to extend the scope of the Directive to cover reports of breaches of national law.
The Whistleblower Directive requires EU-based companies and more than 50 employees to establish secure channels for reporting violations. Whether whistleblowers use these channels is up to them. For obvious reasons, however, it is advantageous for a company if whistleblowers first visit the internal office. Companies should therefore make their contact point as attractive as possible. The directive also protects whistleblowers from reprisals, i.e. they should not be dismissed, degraded, intimidated or otherwise attacked. The directive provides for financial and personal support from the state in this respect.
Especially in the financial scandal of Luxembourg leaks and the Panama Papers it became evident that whistleblowers can be important when it comes to uncovering grievances. The protection of whistleblowers, however, was only occasionally provided in member states. The EU therefore considered it necessary to introduce a comprehensive minimum standard for the protection of whistleblowers.
In summary, it is clear that the EU has at least set strong signals for the protection of whistleblowers; it remains to be seen whether and what effects the directive will have.