The last two points I would like to make is that whistle-blowing is not only important in countries but also international organisations. The EU itself doesn't have a very good whistle-blower regime and doesn't have a very good track record. Roelie Post, the Dutch citizen, is still in hiding for having exposed trafficking of children and she's losing everything. So I hope the EU will solve that. Lastly, I put forward an amendment to have a general rapporteur on whistle-blowing. Not to have a report on every single case, like Snowden, but to have one of us who's able to speak out on behalf of whistle-blowers when they're in an acute position of danger.
I hope we can nominate such a person even this week. Je suis d'accord avec M. Mais, il est toutefois dans une position meilleure que bien d'autres lanceurs d'alerte. The subject is very important for our democracies and for all states having or a democratic purpose or intention. The French law of December precisely gave a precise definition of what a whistleblower is, namely article 6 of the Sapin II law, of December 9, "a natural person who reveals or signals, in a manner disinterested and in good faith, a crime or offense, a serious and manifest violation of an international commitment duly ratified or approved by France, of a unilateral act of an international organization taken on the basis of such an undertaking —of the law or regulation—, or a threat or serious harm to the public interest, of which she has been personally aware".
In a nutshell, it means protecting the person who denounces a violation of the law but also of the general interest in a disproportionate way, and of the rights of individuals. And our colleague rightly recalls that the European Union, the European Parliament in particular, approved on 16 April a proposal for a directive to go a step further by drawing precisely on the work of the Council of Europe.
I will make two substantive observations, complementary to the findings and recommendations of the report. First, the report rightly proposes the creation of an independent authority in each country and a network of these authorities. I note that many of the European Union and non-Union States have an independent national non-judicial Human Rights structure and that these structures could be supportive of this.
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We are indeed in the case of the protection of the rights of people, whistleblowers, but also the rights of citizens, including the right to know, the right to seek help and the intervention of the public authorities, the right to request an application of the precautionary principle. My second observation focuses on a number of principles that are of course posed. The hardest thing is to have to reconcile this right to protection with other rights. I will therefore take an example of the necessary conciliation between the protection of the "business secret", namely information which is secret and which has commercial value because it is secret, and the right to launch an alert.
Certainly, in many cases, there will be discussions on the open field. State texts often refer only to protection for reporting wrongdoing or illegal acts. There is also the question of the denunciation of legal acts, no clarification being made in the hypothesis, far from being exceptional, where they represent a threat to the general interest. Under these conditions, an ad hoc monitoring on the protection of whistleblowers could therefore be proposed; the monitoring of the legislation and the operational principles to be applied could be a useful complement.
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I'd like too to thank the rapporteur for a fascinating report and I'd like to turn to paragraph three of that report, where he says "disclosing serious failings in the public interest must not remain the preserve of those citizens who are prepared to sacrifice their personal lives and those of their relatives, as too often happened in the past. I think that that illustrates the point of why we are debating this issue this morning.
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It is also a very appropriate time to be looking at this, particularly when one looks across to the United States to see the results of the whistle-blowing of a member of the intelligence community on the US government on the interference by the president from a third country. And I think that this US example is a very good example of what we must avoid. We must avoid the politicisation of whistle-blowing, and being able to see it in those terms.
I would like to thank the speaker earlier who commended the UK for what it has been doing in terms of being able to deal with whistle-blowing. But this report also illustrates the poor state of legislation in Europe and I perfectly agree that some harmonisation and rationalisation are called for.
I have no objections to an EU Directive on this subject. But I do think in this, the 70th year of this Council, that this should be a Council of Europe initiative rather than an EU initiative, given that we reach so many more countries than the EU does. I have a few points of concern to be able to raise. I think the issue of dealing with vexatious complaints needs to be looked at again and to be looked at in more detail, and there needs to be a mechanism for making sure that the way in which we deal with that is neither subjective nor unpredictable. And I do think that some more work on that is absolutely called for.
The second point is in relation to non-disclosure agreements in the UK. In the UK, for example we can get tied up with non-disclosure agreements that try to prevent whistle-blowing. Now I am always somebody who stands against being embraced by the legal profession when it comes to this — no offence to members of the legal profession here — but I do think that we need to be able to concentrate on that and be able to to deal with that. And of course the more we make this whole thing special, the less need there will be for non-disclosure agreements.
Lastly the thing that we need to concentrate on is speed: there needs to be speed in dealing with these things because that helps to end the politicisation. Finally, if I may, I think that there is an opportunity here to combine this debate with the debate tomorrow in recommending an ombudsman to be able to deal with these problems and to be able to sort the difficulties out. However, he paints a somewhat rosy picture of the situation in the United Kingdom. The situation in the United Kingdom has deteriorated substantially recently. It's very difficult to get answers to freedom of information requests.
The prime minister tried to shut down parliament for five weeks so that we couldn't ask any questions and he had to be taken to the supreme court, who agreed by 11 votes to nil that what he was trying to do was unlawful. One of the remaining ways that we can find out what's going on in the United Kingdom is through whistle-blowers and ministers and civil servants who are unhappy about the way that this — our government — is moving. They have done that. Recently, for example, there was a revelation that the current prime minister, when he was mayor of London, overruled officials to allow his then-girlfriend to go on a trade mission which he had been told she couldn't go on.
I mean, this is just astonishing. And that's just one of many examples that is coming out through whistle-blowing. We even had the former chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, revealing that Crispin Odey, a hedge fund billionaire, hedge fund backer of the conservative was backing against the United Kingdom — some of our institutions — on the basis that we would leave the European Union without a deal.
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And he's pushing the government in that direction. He's said to make hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of this and we only know that through Philip Hammond and others. Of course, most of our newspapers don't tell us what's happening because their owners are based in tax havens. Whether they're the Barclay brothers, all of them are based in tax havens. And, of course, the European Union, on the first of January, is bringing in regulations against tax havens. That's why they want us out. They want us out so that we don't don't find out. We'll need a lot more whistle-blowers to find that out.
But over the last few months things have deteriorated. In Boris Johnson we've got our own Donald Trump.
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It's not a good thing for our country. The more we have whistle-blowers, whether they be civil servants, ministers or anyone else to tell us what's going on behind the scenes, the better our country will be. Cependant, il brosse un tableau quelque peu optimiste de la situation au Royaume-Uni. Et il pousse le gouvernement dans cette direction. On dit qu'il gagne des centaines de millions de livres en faisant cela et nous ne le savons que par Philip Hammond et d'autres.
C'est pour cela qu'ils nous veulent dehors. Nous aurons besoin de beaucoup plus de lanceurs d'alerte pour le savoir.
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Je crains donc que, sans lui manquer de respect, M. Avec Boris Johnson, nous avons notre Donald Trump. Ce n'est pas une bonne chose pour notre pays.
Plus nous aurons de lanceurs d'alerte, qu'il s'agisse de fonctionnaires, de ministres ou de quiconque, pour nous dire ce qui se passe en coulisses, meilleur sera notre pays. Every whistle-blower, whether an individual, a group or an institution, plays a crucial role in our modern democracies: through selfless disclosure of information relating to collective danger or a serious crime, they most often trigger a process of regulation, controversy and citizen mobilization beneficial to the general interest.
From William Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat" in the Watergate affair, to Erin Brockovich, who acted to uncover the chromium scandal in the drinking water of Hinkley, California, or more recently, Irene Frachon, the doctor who disclosed the Mediator revelations to Edward Snowden, who denounced the generalized surveillance system of US intelligence agencies. Who can ignore these figures who have defended our rights by reporting abuses or scandals of all kinds?
Make no mistake: while they are acting for the common good, these whistle-blowers take real personal risks in the name of the causes they defend. They most often jeopardize their professional and financial situation, the tranquility of their private life and their family, and even their personal security and their image.
The Council of Europe has, for several years now, taken up the cause of these public opinion advocates.
GUILLAUME DE LORRIS
Our Assembly voted on several important resolutions on this issue, the Committee of Ministers adopted a specific recommendation in and the European Court of Human Rights has developed a demanding jurisprudence. As pointed out by the rapporteur, whose high quality work I welcome, the recent Directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of the European Union law, which was adopted on April 19th, was largely inspired by the work of the Council of Europe on whistle-blowers. I welcome this as a further illustration of the contributions of our Organization to the European Union on all matters relating to Human Rights, the rule of law and democracy.
Quite logically, the Legal Affairs Committee invites Council of Europe member states to follow the European Directive, while retaining a wider scope. This incentive should not raise any particular problem for the Member States of the Union, some of which - like France - have already implemented legislation which is quite close to the Directive.
In any case, it will be more ambitious in the case of non-EU states. Like the rapporteur, I believe that the prospect of a Council of Europe convention on the subject, based inter alia on the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of , but also on the proposals of our Assembly, would be a strong signal as the Organization celebrates its 70th anniversary.
This idea, like the text in debate, garners my full support. I will, therefore, of course, vote without hesitation for.