Ask your colleagues and you'll probably find several definitions of what a whistleblower really is. Some of them will identify honest and heroic behaviour. Other definitions, meanwhile, will focus on a derogatory connotation of disloyalty.
During my difficult experiences at the European Commission, it never crossed my mind that I may have fallen into the whistleblower category. As the chief accountant of the commission, I always felt it was my personal duty and responsibility to act according to my professional integrity.
I truly believe that if you face a situation which you consider serious, it is your responsibility – notably as a high-level manager – to advise those in authority who can take a decision to resolve the situation.
Funnily enough, while public opinion immediately identified me as a whistleblower, the European Commission has not taken the same view. The reasons for this may well have something to do with the fact that, following the resignation of the Santer commission in 1999 due to allegations of financial mismanagement, the EC was prompted to issue regulations to protect whistleblowers.
But to be ‘protected’, you must fall within the EC’s prescribed definition of whistleblowing. I truly believe my situation fell within their definition.
They, on the other hand, disagree. In any event my behaviour as chief accountant fell within professional good practice, which they also refuse to consider.
In my view – and I speak with some authority – the EC’s definition doesn’t encourage people to stand up and be honest and direct. Perceived disloyalty remains.
And this is a pity. Because in our rapidly changing world, where good principles are perhaps more at risk than ever before, there is a real need for more people to stand up for them.
But it’s not all bad news. As a positive message, I would like to say that eventually, and even after going through this bad experience, I am able to sleep with a clear conscience. And for me, this is worth much more than the benefits of being viewed as ‘loyal’ by my former employers at the EC.
Marta Andreasen is the former chief accountant at the EU