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Commission issues new guidelines to remind staff of whistleblowing obligations
The Commission has yesterday adopted new guidelines on whistleblowing to encourage staff to come forward and report any information pointing to corruption, fraud and other serious irregularities that they discover in the line of duty.
The EU already has some of the strictest whistleblowing rules in the world. These rules were adopted in 2004 and set out in the staff regulations, which have legislative force. The new guidelines elaborate on these rules, and bring together case law and practical experience. The guidelines also serve as a reminder to staff that while whistleblowing is a right in many legal systems, for EU staff it is an obligation.
Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said: "Whistleblowing is a key weapon in the Commission's armoury against corruption and fraud. The Commission doesn't just allow staff to blow the whistle if they encounter serious irregularities; it obliges them to do so. These guidelines give staff the confidence to know when to blow the whistle, and how, as well as reassurance that they will be protected and remain anonymous if they wish."
Although the rules have triggered some significant investigations by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the number of whistleblowing cases remains low. According to OLAF statistics, there are about five cases a year on average.
This is because on the rare occasion that staff encounter serious irregularities in the normal line of duty, most of them report it to their superiors, without an explicit reference to the whistleblowing rules. Nevertheless, it is important to have clear, well-known and trusted reporting channels and whistleblowing arrangements in place.
So as part of its Anti-Fraud Strategy, the Commission decided to provide better guidance to staff that explains in clear terms when and how to 'blow the whistle'. In drawing up these guidelines, it looked at best practice around the world, and discussed the issue with two leading organisations in the area, Transparency International and Public Concern at Work.
Some key features of the new guidelines:
Reporting serious irregularities is a duty, to help the Commission and the European Anti-Fraud Office detect and investigate them. This duty is counterbalanced by solid protection offered to whistleblowers acting in good faith;
Staff can choose between a number of reporting channels for whistleblowing, and can bypass their hierarchy entirely. As a last resort and under certain conditions, staff can even address their concerns to another EU institution;
Retaliation against whistleblowers is not tolerated. Whistleblowers must be protected and their identity must remain confidential if they so wish. Particular care is taken during staff appraisal and promotion procedures to ensure that the whistleblower suffers no adverse consequences;
The Commission supports whistleblowers who wish to change jobs because they reasonably fear hostile reactions from their immediate work environment;
In order to help staff who are unsure of whether or not certain facts should be reported, the Commission offers confidential and impartial guidance and support to (potential) whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are entitled to receive feedback about the action taken as a consequence of their reporting;
Malicious whistleblowing, aimed at harming another person's integrity or reputation, is prohibited and liable to disciplinary follow-up;
Naturally, the guidelines point out that the rights of defence of people implicated in any allegations must be respected.
The guidelines will be communicated to all staff and will be followed by a series of FAQs to provide staff with examples and further details.
Antonio Gravili (+32 2 295 43 17)
Marilyn Carruthers (+32 2 299 94 51)