Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Finance, promised to deliver a comprehensive anti-corruption law that included protection for those courageous enough to speak out against corruption and malpractice. The minister set the bar high when he said that the law should “cover all possible situations… and here, I obviously think of situations like the one of Antoine Deltour,” a French citizen who disclosed secret tax rulings and is currently under prosecution in Luxembourg.
The draft law – called “Loi Sapin II” after the Minister himself – is in its final stages of approval. But, as it currently stands, it falls far short: The definition of whistleblower is too narrow. It only covers violations of the law and serious risks and harms in three areas: the environment, health or public security. This means that people who disclose such information in other areas would not be protected – neither would Antoine Deltour who had revealed secret tax arrangements between the Luxembourg authorities and multinational companies. If he had been in France and the new law was in effect, Deltour would still have found himself in the dock.
“This draft bill would effectively mean a setback compared to the current situation,” said Nicole Marie Meyer from Transparency International France. Together with other civil society groups TI France started a petition, which has already been signed by more than 60,000 people.
Transparency International has clear recommendations on what whistleblower legislation should look like. This includes a broad definition of the term whistleblower to protect those who disclose information where there is a reasonable belief that the information is true. Instead, the current draft creates several pre-conditions for any protection, including the proof that the whistleblower is motivated by public interest and that there is no intention of obtaining any personal advantage.
The overall opinion from leading whistleblower experts on the new French legislation is damning.
“When whistleblowers disclose information in the public interest, they are doing us a service. It is up to us to demand the change that is needed and ensure that whistleblowers are not held personally liable for their public service action.” said Anna Myers from the Government Accountability Project in Washington and co-chair of WIN, an international network of whistleblowing organisations, at an event in Paris last week.
And Cathy James from the charity Public Concern at Work which advises thousands of whistleblowers in the United Kingdom, also co-chair of WIN, added: “It is very important that the law has a broad coverage, the narrow definitions and preconditions contained within this draft law will doubtless undermine some of the innovative provisions it contains.”
This is a unique opportunity for France to join the ranks of the very few EU countries that do have adequate protections for whistleblowers in place, like the United Kingdom and Ireland – the vast majority lacks such regulations or has laws that fall behind good standards.
Minister Sapin had publicly expressed his support to Antoine Deltour and set the bar high for “his law”. Now the clock is ticking: The law is meant to be approved in the coming weeks – time to support a law that complies with good standards, and to sign the petition!