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First steps towards a European Whistleblowers’ Centre

15 Jan 2017Say you find out that the Italian mafia benefits from European subsidies. That’s not a hypothetical example either, because loads of such cases of fraud are known. You need plenty of courage to report a case of this kind to the EU institutions. The protection of whistleblowers is still by no means guaranteed. That’s why I’m pleased that the Budgetary Control Committee, of which I am a member, last week unanimously adopted my report, in which I make concrete proposals for such protection, including the establishment of a European Whistleblowers’ Centre like the one we recently set up in the Netherlands as a result of the efforts of party colleague Ronald van Raak, MP.

It’s unbelievably courageous of people to inform the European Parliament of suspected fraud involving EU money. The Budgetary Control Committee takes great care what we do with this information, but this week a fellow committee member asked why we could not give out the name of a whistleblower who has sent us serious accusations regarding an EU official. After all the person in question had not asked for his or her name to be kept secret. This was simply a naïve remark from this colleague, but provides a good illustration of how poorly protection currently works.

For EU officials there are rules which protect them from reprisals if they report abuses. But for other whistleblowers there are no such arrangements. In my report I propose that in European Union institutions, particularly the anti-fraud service OLAF and the European Parliament itself, special contact points be established to which whistleblowers can send information and where they are assured of reliable treatment. In addition, just as in the Netherlands, an independent body should be created, as has happened in the Netherlands, which whistleblowers can approach for advice. Depending on how serious the complaint, such a Whistleblowers’ Centre can refer the person in question to, for example OLAF, or simply protect the whistleblower from his- or herself, if the accusations are insufficiently founded.

So does the EU have any powers in relation to this policy area? In this case this is clear: because what’s at stake here is the European Union’s own financial interest, a matter with regard to which whistleblowers play a major role, the proposal complies with all legal requirements. The changes will, moreover, first and foremost have implications for the practice that whistleblowers simply have to wait and see whether the reliability of their information will be respected, something which will now come to an end. If during the mid-February Plenary in Strasbourg my proposals are approved by a majority of MEPs, there is no excuse for the European Commission not to act, and act quickly. Meanwhile we can establish a special contact point in the Parliament itself at least, so we don’t have to wait for the Commission to make the world of Europe a little more just.

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