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40 CES Open Forum Series

Democracy’s Tripwire: Global Corruption and Whistleblowing in Europe and the U.S.

Aug 7, 2020 Allison K. Stanger


Misconduct by those in high places is dangerous to reveal, even in political regimes that protect freedom of expression. Whistleblowers in democracies thus face a paradox: by challenging and exposing transgressions by the powerful, they perform a vital public service; yet without the sustained support of the voting public, they always suffer for it. This paper compares whistleblower protection politics in Europe and the United States to bring into fuller relief the vital role insider truth-telling plays in combatting global corruption, keeping elites honest, and sustaining liberal democracy. We begin in section one by exploring the differing perceptions of whistleblowing in authoritarian and democratic regimes to highlight the reasons why whistleblowers proliferate when democracy is threatened by autocratic forces. Section two tells the story of the world’s first whistleblower protection law as a means for framing the recent deliberations in Europe. The third section explores the external factors that laid the groundwork for the European initiative and elucidates the political dynamics that made the seemingly impossible prospect of a European whistleblower directive reality. The fourth segment concludes with a comparison of the status of whistleblower protection in the United States and Europe and an assessment of its significance.