Intergroup meeting: the protection of whistleblowers

14 Mar 2019
This morning, the Intergroup on the Welfare and the Conservation of Animals gathered to discuss the protection of whistleblowers, the people who “report (within the organisation concerned or to an outside authority) or disclose (to the public) information on a wrongdoing obtained in a work-related context”.
Photo: L214

Whistleblowers are necessary to ensure the exposure of illegal and unethical activities damaging the public interest. As they are often victims of retaliation and since national legislations offer different levels of protection, the EU institutions decided to legislate on this so as to ensure a minimum level of protection in the EU. In April 2018, the Commission published its initial  proposal for a Directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law. The JURI Committee adopted its report in November 2018. After weeks of interinstitutional negotiations in trilogue, the Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached a provisional compromise last Monday.

With regard to animal welfare and conservation, whistleblowers are often alerting authorities, media, and NGOs about the lack of compliance with the legislation. NGOs are working in close collaboration with whistleblowers operating in slaughterhouses, in transport companies, in laboratories, in farms or in the field. Whistleblowers are crucial for the enforcement of legislation  relating to wildlife conservation. They can denounce illegal trafficking or poaching. Species conservation, animal health and animal welfare are thus all explicitly included in the policy areas covered by the current legislative proposal.

Today’s meeting was chaired by Sirpa Pietikainen MEP, President of the Intergroup. As the shadow rapporteur on this issue, Pascal Durand MEP opened the floor with a presentation on the current proposal for a Directive and the key points of the compromise reached in the trilogues negotiations, on Monday. The Commission, Parliament and the Council agreed to let whistleblowers decide themselves if they prefer to report on the breaches of EU law internally in their organisation or if they would rather go directly to the competent authority. The provisional agreement is also making it easier for whistleblowers to address the media and NGOs. Pascal Durand deplored that the protection could not be extended to NGOs but welcomed the inclusion of facilitators in the interinstitutional compromise. As Member States have the opportunity to offer extended protection in their implementation of the Directive, he expressed his hopes that national Governments will go further than the proposed Directive.

Mauricio Garcia Pereira then shared his experience as a whistleblower. He used to work in the slaughterhouse  of Limoges, one of the largest in France, where he witnessed unlawful and unethical activities. He decided to report them to the media with the help of the French NGO, L214. In his very moving speech, he recalled the psychological and economic repercussions that this experience has had on his life. His statements clearly illustrated the dilemma whistleblowers are often confronted with between abiding to their ethical principles and the need to make a living. It also showed how crucial the role of whistleblowers is to alert the public on specific issues.

Mark Worth, Executive Director at the European Center for Whistleblower Rights, gave an overview about the current situation of whistleblowers rights in Europe and the opportunities that the new Directive will provide. He brought several striking examples of whistleblowers who have suffered  important retaliation after having alerted the authorities on breaches of animal welfare and environmental law, like losing their their job or undergoing years of prosecution. While welcoming the proposal for a Directive on the protection of whistleblowers and the provisional agreement reached in trilogue, he stressed the need for a proper implementation of the law by the Member States so as to ensure that whistleblowers are offered effective protection across the EU.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate between the Members of the Intergroup on how to ensure  an effective protection of whistleblowers.