BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Whistleblowers will win European Union-wide protection for the first time under rules agreed by member nations and lawmakers on Tuesday which will provide legal guarantees to those who expose corruption, tax evasion and other crimes.
The reform introduces common procedures at EU level, revising an approach to whistleblower protection which has left the matter in the hands of 28 national authorities across the bloc. That has resulted in widely varying approaches, with no laws at all in some member states.
Under the deal, whistleblowers will be protected when they report irregularities at the companies or public bodies where they work. Legal protection would be guaranteed when whistleblowers disclose illicit activities through internal channels or to public authorities.
Whistleblowers will also obtain legal protection if they disclose breaches to the media but guarantees will apply only if public disclosure was made after no response was received to the first report of breaches, or in cases where whistleblowers risk retaliation or major public interests are at risk.
The new rules also define penalties for false or malicious reporting.
EU states had wanted a three-tier system in which the first reporting would be protected only if done internally but EU lawmakers obtained a simpler system in which whistleblowers will be able to report to public authorities in the first instance.
The reforms follow criticism from transparency campaigners about a lack of EU protection for individuals who report such breaches following the prosecution of two whistleblowers who leaked information in 2012 about Luxembourg’s illegal tax deals with large corporations.
Attempts by some states to water down the reform earlier this year were blocked at an early stage of the talks with Luxembourg, Ireland and Hungary seeking to have tax matters excluded, according to minutes of EU internal meetings seen by Reuters.
However, a coalition of EU states, including Germany, France and Italy, eventually prevailed in keeping tax revelations within the proposal.
The new rules will need a final procedural approval by EU states and the Parliament before going into effect.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Jason Neely