A new promising story is going to take place in Greece where whistleblowing is slowly becoming a culture. Even though many EU member-countries had their own whistleblowing law operating (France, Germany, Ireland, Austria and others) before the European Directive on Whistleblower Protection was enforced, Greece is an exception.
No whistleblower law and specific provision on whistleblower protection exist in the country. With a little experience in resolving whistleblowers' complaints and establishing the guides for whistleblower protection, Greece can only benefit from the obligation to comply with the 2019 Directive. An ad hoc legislation should be implemented till the end of 2021, which still leaves Greece with one year to enact all of the necessary regulations.
A starting point for whistleblowing in Greece is the level of compliance with new legislation by domestic private and governmental entities. Here Greece has achieved some results: as an outcome of trade with European companies and general orientation towards international business standards, nearly 57%1 of private companies had reporting procedures at a place as of 2017. Thus, the process of reporting is familiar to many employees and only requires significant reinforcement.
Greece already hosted whistleblowers on the national level: out of recent cases, a whistleblower Maria Efimova escaped Malta and asked Greek authorities for protection. Even though Efimova blew the whistle in 2017, she is still in unfavorable conditions and fears for her own and her family's life. The absence of strong political will to ensure whistleblower's safety and protect her from retaliation points at weak whistleblower reports regulations and urgency of the EU Directive implementation.
Maria Efimova is a whistleblower in a banking system, Pilatus bank in particular, and all of the financial entities usually are strictly controlled by the government. A general whistleblowing law may not exist, but whistleblowing in financial structures is always regulated (Germany being the brightest example of a special law for whistleblowing on financial operations).
Weak whistleblower protection in the EU, despite the most comprehensive EU Directive and development of whistleblower protection, is strikingly evident not in Greece only. Maria Efimova escaped Malta, a country which has a special whistleblower protection law and couldn't protect her, to Greece, the country which doesn't have the law. Many stakeholders and NGO's are advocating for Efimova in Greece, however, her case is far from being resolved. That's one more reason to discuss what Greece already has in place to protect whistleblowers and what will be implemented in 2021.
With no special whistleblower protection law in Greece, the Civil Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure partially fulfil its function. Whistleblowing procedure, therefore, will be defined by the following rules:
- Only public sector employees can be protected according to the Civil Service Code, but public and private sectors employees if the report is related to the Criminal Code.
- The scope of the reports is limited to reporting on criminal (terrorism, human trafficking) and corrupt activities (money laundering, bribery).
- Whistleblower's data will be processed according to the Act Regarding Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data. Each company willing to establish a reporting channel needs to inform the Hellenic Data Protection Authority.
- A whistleblower is obliged to act in the public interest and its a precondition for the authorities to consider his or her report. However, this requirement is not equal to the act of 'good faith' common in other European countries legislation. Whistleblowers shouldn't be involved in the crime they are reporting, but there is no provision regarding their personal gain from the report.
- Whistleblowers who report criminal violations are guaranteed anonymity at certain stages of the investigation. Generally, Greek legislation related to witness protection doesn't prohibit anonymous reporting, but neither encourages it.
- There is no central authority in Greece for dealing with whistleblowers' reports. The reports will be considered individually depending on the type ofviolation and entity, which means there are no equal conditions for all the whistleblowers.
- The interrelation of the obligation to report on misconduct and being loyal to the employer is not explicitly stated in the legislation. This can be the source of legal argument between the employer and the employee, which again leaves the whistleblower with no protection from retaliation.
- Protection from retaliation is very limited in the Civil and Criminal Code and refers only to the protection from prosecution. Defamation, displacement can still be used against a whistleblower, and it can be challenging to protect him or her with legal means.
The old legislation is far from perfect due to its lack of specification. Yet, new regulations are currently developed in Greece as part of the EU membership obligations. In June 2020, Greek government established the Committee to prepare the implementation of the EU Whistleblower Directive in the Greek legal system.
In November 2020, a civil society coalition filed a request to join the process of integrating the whistleblowing law in Greek system to ensure that it is up to date and corresponds to Greek realities. The open process of legislation creation and implementation seems to be a more beneficial approach in Greece, and we hope the NGO's opinion will be considered. Still, even with the current steps from the government, it is evident that we can envisage the progress.
Whether the end of 2021 will be the endpoint of whistleblower law creation and enactment is still in question due to the enormous pressure on governmental structures in pandemic time. The perspectives of the law are still visible regardless of any possible delay if we evaluate the readiness of civil society to accept the changes. "Say no to corruption" as a perception of the new law by society, a coalition of stakeholders and BluePrint open statements all are pushing Greek whistleblower protection only forward.