by Mark Worth, Director, International Whistleblower Project / Blueprint for Free Speech Co-coordinator, Southeast Europe Coalition for Whistleblower Protection - 15.6.2016
Germany has some of the weakest legal protections for whistleblowers in Europe – if not the world. Hoping to improve this record, justice ministers from Germany’s 16 states are calling for stronger whistleblower rights at the national level. The call is being led by two state justice ministers, Stefan Ludwig of Brandenburg and Antje Niewisch-Lennartz of Lower Saxony. Their initiative was endorsed during a meeting of the 16 ministers outside of Berlin on June 1.
“We must finally seek a comprehensive legal system that protects honest whistleblowers,” declared the Green Party’s Niewisch-Lennartz, a former data protection official and student union leader. “Abuses and illegal acts often can only be detected through evidence from employees at companies, institutions and organizations.”
Though German politicians have pledged to strengthen whistleblower protections, government and corporate employees who report misconduct still routinely face dismissal, bullying and other reprisals. Victimized whistleblowers seeking reinstatement and compensation must go to court, where they stand before judges who often favor the rights of employers over workers. Despite a constitutional right to freedom of expression, archaic “loyalty oaths” bind employees to secrecy in the workplace.
Joachim Vetter, the head of Germany’s Federation of Labor Court Judges, told the German Parliament in March 2015 that whistleblowers “do not need a special regulation.”
While the new momentum is welcomed, it remains to be seen whether the justice ministers will follow up on their call. Political will to enhance whistleblower protections has been weak. In June 2015 the ruling Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties overwhelmingly rejected legislative proposals from the Green and Left parties.