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EU risks suppressing tomorrow’s Luxleaks or Panama Papers with trade secrets rules

Press Release

Monday 4 Apr 2016

Nessa Childers, MEP for Dublin, cautioned against provisions in EU legislation proposals on the protection of commercial secrets as a tool to muzzle whistleblowers and investigative journalists shedding light of tax dodgers.

The proposed Directive is scheduled to come to a full Parliament vote on April 14.

Speaking today in reaction to the unprecedented leaking of millions of documents shedding light on tax-haven schemes used by an international elite of powerful and wealthy personalities, Ms. Childers said:

“EU companies do stand to lose from unfair competition if their know-how is stolen through industrial espionage or other means, and these practices are indeed illegal in EU countries.

“However, when floating this legislative proposal for EU-wide measures to protect trade secrets, the Commission took the cue of big business and went far beyond that.

“Anything which has a commercial value for a company can fall under this directive, and its use or revelation will be illegal.

“This is a double-edged sword hanging over the heads of activists, reporters or any civil society groups wishing to blow the whistle on wrongful conduct which, by definition, is done without the consent of those they take that information from.

“While proposing such a blanket definition of trade secrets you cannot legally disclose the Commission made the scope of exceptions for whistleblowers so narrow that you will struggle to get any revelations through it.

“My colleagues in Parliament’s legal affairs committee made some improvements to those, but the text that will be put to a vote remains fundamentally flawed.

“As organisations such as the Tax Justice Network highlight, Antoine Deltour, the PricewaterhouseCoopers whistleblower whose Luxleaks revelations led to his prosecution for theft and violation of trade secrets, would also be in breach of this proposed directive.

“This is because the narrow exceptions foreseen require that the revelations pertain to illegal activity, which the company was not engaging in, seeing as they were exploiting tax ruling loopholes granted by the Luxembourgish state.

“Likewise, the journalist who enabled the publication of the revelations is on the dock. The directive supposedly allows for the right to freedom of expression and information, which depends on how EU countries interpret international human rights principles.

“The fact the Luxembourgish judiciary is prosecuting the journalist means this vague construction will be meaningless in the face of the blanket right to keep trade secrets granted to corporations.

“This is just plain wrong on a level too many.”