Four EU countries are now one step away from being taken to court for failing to pass strong rights for whistleblowers.
In a major announcement on September 29, the European Commission took the next step in its infringement actions against Austria, Belgium, Romania and Slovenia. The Commission warned the four countries they are “failing to fulfill their obligations” to pass a new whistleblower protection law to comply with a 2019 EU Directive.
The Commission formally demanded that the countries comply and gave them two months to reply to Brussels. If their answers are not satisfactory, the Commission said it may refer the countries to the EU Court of Justice, which could issue fines.
Austria, Belgium, Romania and Slovenia are among 17 EU countries that are nearly one year tardy in passing a new whistleblower law. The Directive set a deadline of December 17, 2021, which only a few countries met. Though 17 countries still haven’t passed a new law, the Commission singled out the four countries for stepped-up enforcement.
Belgium, Romania and Slovenia have yet to pass a new law despite already having whistleblower protection systems in place. Belgium has had a law for federal-level public employees since 2014, Romania has had a law for public employees since 2004, and Slovenia has had whistleblower provisions in its anti-corruption law since 2011. Of the four, only Austria has never had a law on the books.
A spokesperson for Austria’s Labor and Economy Ministry told WNN he hopes the law will be passed by the end of the year. “Austria is striving to implement the Directive. Currently, intensive negotiations are underway at [the] government level,” Eberhard Blumenthal said, adding that officials plan to give the Commission a timetable “in the coming weeks.”
Slovenia plans to ask the Commission for an extension, said Katja Rejec Longar of the Justice Ministry’s Office for International Cooperation. She told WNN a draft law could be sent to Parliament in the coming days, with final passage hopefully coming by the end of the year. Longar explained that provisions in the current anti-corruption law “were not nearly enough” to comply with the Directive, in part because they only applied to public employees. She said “a lot of care and coordination” has gone into the draft law, and that “new tasks and powers” will be given to public agencies.
Romania’s draft law is in an “advanced stage” and is “under urgent debate” in Parliament, Justice Ministry spokesperson Adrian Dumitru told WNN. Dumitru said officials “have made every effort to accommodate” the Commission and that the ministry has been in ”permanent contact” with the Commission’s experts.
Public officials in Belgium did not respond to WNN’s request for an interview.
Brussels began pressuring delinquent countries soon after last December’s deadline passed. In January the Commission sent letters of “formal notice” to 24 countries for failing to meet the deadline. This was followed up by letters to 15 countries in July.
Ten countries have passed new laws: Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Sweden.
However, as WNN has reported, most of these new laws do not include any specific mechanisms to protect employees from retaliation, or compensate them for lost wages and other damages if they are fired or demoted. The laws say nothing about how an employee can apply for and obtain whistleblower status. And they provide almost no guidance for courts, which likely will become the venue for many whistleblower retaliation and unfair dismissal cases.