IATE Term of the Week: Whistleblower




Whistleblowers — insiders who expose corrupt or illegal activities

The expression is old and has been used to refer to people blowing whistles since the 19th century. From sailing and falconry to policing and refereeing, people use whistles to attract attention or signal wrongdoing.

During the late 60’s, Ralph Nader- a US activist- gave the term a more politically nuanced twist and defined whistleblowing as “an act of a man or woman who, believing that the public interest overrides the interest of the organisation he serves, blows the whistle that the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent or harmful activity.”

Over time, the term has seen its meaning extended into a more figurative practice. Today mainstream media outlets and official institutions use the term to designate someone divulging information about corruption.

The Importance of Whistleblowers

Public whistleblowing of recent events include cases of illegal mass surveillance, abuse of environmental protection measurements, and scale tax evasion, among others. Whistleblowing is one of the most effective measures against malpractice and corruption.

The European Parliament’s Commitment to Whistleblowers’ Protection

The European Parliament has supported the introduction of common EU rules on whistleblowers protection for years, highlighting this issue in its enquiries into tax evasion scandals. In a resolution adopted in February 2017, MEPs called on the European Commission to initiate legislation to protect the EU’s financial interests. In October 2017, they reiterated their demand.

On 16th April, 2019 MEPs adopted minimum common standards to protect people reporting breaches of EU law across the Union.

These new regulations include:

• The implementation of a new system to protect and encourage reporting of breaches of EU law
• The choice between internal or external reporting
• Safeguards against the suspension and retaliation acts from employers

The aim is to provide a better protective framework for the disclosure of information on illegal or harmful activities in work-related contexts.


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Martin, G. (2019). ‘Whistle-blower’ – the meaning and origin of this phrase. [online] Phrasefinder. Available at: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/whistle-blower.html [Accessed 1 May 2019].

Europarl.europa.eu. (2019). Protecting whistle-blowers: new EU-wide rules approved | News | European Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190410IPR37529/protecting-whistle-blowers-new-eu-wide-rules-approved [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

Lundgren, N., Goudin, H., Dahl, H. and van Buitenen, P. (2009). Written declaration on whistle blowing and the protection of whistleblowers. Written Declaration. [online] European Parliament. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+WDECL+P6-DCL-2009-0045+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN&language=EN [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

Europarl.europa.eu. (2019). Texts adopted – The role of whistleblowers in the protection of EU’s financial interests – Tuesday, 14 February 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0022_EN.html?redirect [Accessed 2 May 2019].

Europarl.europa.eu. (2019). Transparent taxation | News | European Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/priorities/taxes [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

WhistleblowerProtection.EU. (2019). Whistleblowers in the EU must be protected. [online] Available at: https://whistleblowerprotection.eu/ [Accessed 1 May 2019].

Written by Foteini Stathopoulou, Communications Specialist Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament and General Coordinator of the Schuman Trainees Committee of Luxembourg.