In an interview with Spanish daily El Pais, Czech-born EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova came back on the recent steps taken at the European level to protect whistleblowers and talked about the reasons that persuaded her of the need to take such action.
“Brave people who need protection”
From the Dieselgate to Luxleaks, recent scandals have shown the importance of whistleblowers in uncovering unlawful practices flouting consumers rights and damaging public interest. They’ve also revealed the need to implement measures to protect the people that speak up and come forward with such information.
First-hand witness of “concrete cases” like the Panama Papers and Cambridge Analytica scandals, EU justice chief Vera Jourova became aware that the “fragmented” system in Europe was far from optimal: she realized that “these were fundamentally brave people who needed protection”, she told El Pais, hence the need to establish a system across the EU to enable them to come forward. That’s why, she argued, those mechanisms must include several reporting channels, both within and outside of the organisation.
But everyone must also have “the absolute right to defend themselves” and to receive compensation if the allegations prove to be wrong, she argued, stressing the importance of being able to tell the difference between whistleblowers and delators. As it happens, she knows a thing or two about it: Ms. Jourova was, more than a decade ago, wrongly accused of fraud and jailed in the Czech Republic during a month before being cleared. “Moreover, I come from a country where we have a strong tradition of informers”, she added, in a reference to the widespread informing and denunciation that took place in communist Czechoslovakia.
One of the most influential female politicians in Europe
Born in Trebic, Moravia, in 1964, Vera Jourova holds a master’s degree in cultural theory (1991) and a Law degree (2012) from Charles University in Prague. She first started working at the local council of her home-town, before heading the department of regional development of the Vysocina region. Member of the Czech Social Democratic party (CSSD), she became deputy minister for regional development in 2003.
Then, things took an unexpected turn. In 2006, she was arrested in front of cameras for fraud allegations and remained, for more than a month, in pre-trial detention. The allegations proved to be false, and she was eventually cleared of all charges. This experience marked a turning point in her career. She started working in international consultancy in EU funding, got a low degree in Prague, and finally came back to the forefront of Czech politics when she joined Andrej Babis’ ANO movement and was appointed deputy chairwoman ahead of the 2013 elections.
A highly popular and respected political figure – something quite rare in the Czech Republic – she became Minister for Regional Development in January 2014 after ANO came out second of the general elections. In October of that same year, however, she became EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality in the Juncker Commission and moved to Brussels, where she quickly imposed her own style and work ethics, becoming one of the most influential female leaders in Europe.
As Politico puts it, “no commissioner is involved in as many political fights as Vera Jourova”: data protection, judicial cooperation and cross-border terrorism, online terror content, dual food quality, Dieselgate, MeToo (she came out in public as a victim of sexual harassment), Airbnb and shared economy platforms regulation… The list goes on and on: the Moravian-born politician has been at the forefront of most of the major debates that have rocked European societies in the last few years and will, undoubtingly, continue to shape EU policies and politics in the years to come.