Deelname Huis voor Klokkenluiders aan Europese conferentie over klokkenluiden

Op 26 en 27 oktober jl. organiseerde EU-voorzitter Tsjechië de conferentie “Accountability, transparency and trust: working level conference on whistleblowing”. Huis-voorzitter Wilbert Tomesen was een van de genodigden die de conferentie opende met een welkomstwoord.

Aan de conferentie in Praag namen 21 Europese landen deel, waaronder ook de niet-EU-lidstaten Zwitserland en IJsland. Centraal stond daarbij de vraag hoe het staat met de implementatie van de Europese klokkenluidersrichtlijn en hoe men daar in de verschillende Europese landen mee omgaat. De meest in het oog springende initiatieven op een rij:

Veel landen bieden de mogelijkheid om organisaties te sanctioneren door het opleggen van administratieve boetes. Bijvoorbeeld wanneer men niet voorziet in het inrichten van een intern meldkanaal of medewerkers daarover niet informeert. Maar ook het schenden van het vertrouwelijkheidsbeginsel, het niet beschikbaar stellen van een adviseur in vertrouwen of het nemen van repercussies tegenover de melder kan in sommige landen een boete opleveren.

Vrijwel alle Europese landen voorzien in de mogelijkheid om volledig anoniem te kunnen melden. Zwitserland hanteert daarvoor een speciaal online meldpunt. 87% van de meldingen gebeurt daar inmiddels anoniem. In Cyprus kennen dergelijke meldingen geen verjaringstermijn. Duitsland zet in op het inrichten van één centraal extern meldpunt. Melders van misstanden hoeven zich daardoor niet tot verschillende bevoegde autoriteiten te wenden om extern te kunnen melden.

Een aantal landen is volop bezig met communicatiecampagnes om melders, werkgevers en het brede publiek te informeren. Zo voert Slowakije een campagne rondom het motto “Speaking up is golden”.

Als coördinator van het Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities (NEIWA) was Huis-voorzitter Wilbert Tomesen één van de openingssprekers op de conferentie. Een ingekorte versie van zijn bijdrage leest u hieronder:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, deputy Minister Mr Franěk  and Ms Georgiadou, representative of the EU Commission.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this most important and fascinating conference on Whistleblowing!

The EU Directive was publicised at the beginning of 2019 and if I am not mistaken this is one of the very few times that a member country organizes a conference dedicated to this topic. By doing so it underscores the importance of it.

Protecting people who dare to speak up and warn society about wrongdoings is now more important than ever. Stimulating integrity and ethical behaviour, which prevents wrongdoings from happening, is more important than ever.

Today we live in a very different world than, say, only 3 years ago. With the experience of a worldwide pandemic, with a war on our doorstep and with a serious energy crisis, integrity and whistleblowing are inevitably put under pressure. That is why it is more important than éver to support each other and to share knowledge on how to offer the best possible protection for people who raise the alarm and shield us from harm. And that is why a conference such as this is more important than ever. For me it touches upon the core of what binds us in the EU.

I remember vividly the digital gathering of the Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities (NEIWA), a couple of days only after the invasion of the Ukraine. I remember how shocked and flabbergasted the colleagues were, we all were, especially those of the Eastern European countries. But their reaction was not, that the topic of integrity and whistleblowing would be futile in the light of these lifechanging events. Rather we all strongly felt that these topics are linked to the essentials of the way we want to organize our society.

The European Whistleblower Directive is a major step in protecting reporters of breaches of the EU Law. Since December 2021 all member states must apply the Directive and some countries, amongst which, I have to admit, The Netherlands, are still working hard on a transposition into national law. The fact that these regulations have been put in place indicates that governments, societies, appreciate that people should feel free and safe to speak up and that they are supported and protected if need be.

While working on the transposition of the EU Directive into national law we encounter all kinds of challenges and questions. We do not know exactly how the law will work in practice and we, who daily work in this field, sometimes feel the laws could go a little further. Or that next to the law we need certain preconditions and competences, skills and attitudes to make it successful in practice.

First of all this Directive, I think, needs a guarding organization in every member state. This organization has to be dedicated, well-staffed and with sufficient means and powers.

And above all it is essential that this organization is fully independent. This also pleads for the possibility for actual sanctions for instance when people are faced with retaliations or when organizations do not comply with setting up an internal reporting channel.

And a personal wish of mine - to freeze the working relationship during the whistleblowing procedure to effectively protect the reporter of an alleged wrongdoing from dismissal.

In addition, I plead for ways to help whistleblowers to get legal and psychological help, such as by setting up a financial fund. The importance of building strong integrity policies in organizations must be stressed.

I already mentioned the Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities.Allow me to use this opportunity to introduce this network very shortly.

It was founded 3 years ago.  It now consists of 29 organisations of 20 different EU member states - and still counting. Organizations playing a central or pivotal role in the field of whistleblowing.

Our main goal is to coordinate efforts towards the strengthening of the protection of reporting persons within the European Union. We contribute to strengthening of integrity in working relations, through the exchange of knowledge and practices.

Based on what we have in common: the EU Whistleblower Directive, which transposition was and is one of the main topics of NEIWA.

We are at a crossroad today: most countries are in the final stages of transposing the EU Directive and soon will have to put it into daily practice. And here our international network NEIWA, I already mentioned before, aims to play a meaningful role in exchanging knowledge and information based on this real-life practice.

NEIWA speaks up to keep the protection of reporting persons on the political and societal agenda. Last Summer we published a declaration urging the EU member states to make haste with the transposition of the EU Directive. And – even móre important - also to ensure a strong transposition, not only to the letter but above all to the spirit of the directive, in view of the best possible protection of reporting persons. Which is also the topic of this conference and on which we will share knowledge and inspiration the next two days.

Once again thank you for the honour you have given me to be part of this conference.

I hope it helps us all to continue striving for better protection of whistleblowers and for strengthening the essentials of our society.

Thank you very much!