EU introduces anonymous whistleblower tool to combat cartels and protect individuals. Photo: Steven Depolo
A new tool to make it easier for individuals to alert the commission about secret cartels and other antitrust violations while maintaining their anonymity has been launched by the European Commission.
Individuals can now help anonymously in the fight against cartels and other anti-competitive practices. These practices include agreeing on prices or procurement bids, keeping products off the market or unfairly excluding rivals and can cause immense damage to Europe's economy. They can deny customers access to a wider choice of goods and services at reasonable prices, stifle innovation and put companies out of business.
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a press announcement on 16 March:
"If people are concerned by business practices that they think are wrong, they can help put things right. Inside knowledge can be a powerful tool to help the commission uncover cartels and other anti-competitive practices. With our new tool, it is possible to provide information while maintaining anonymity. Information can contribute to the success of our investigations quickly and more efficiently to the benefit of consumers and the EU's economy as a whole".
Until now, most cartels have been detected through the commission's leniency programme, which allows businesses to report their own involvement in a cartel in exchange for a reduction of the fine imposed on them.
The commission's new tool gives an opportunity also to individuals who have knowledge of the existence or functioning of a cartel or other types of antitrust violations to help end such practices.
Anonymous provision of information
The tool protects whistleblowers' anonymity through a specifically-designed encrypted messaging system that allows two way communications. The service is run by a specialised external service provider that acts as an intermediary, and which relays only the content of received messages without forwarding any metadata that could be used to identify the individual providing the information.
The tool, as well as allowing individuals to provide information, it gives them the option of asking for the commission to reply to their messages.
allows the commission to seek clarifications and details,
preserves the individual's anonymity through encrypted communications and the use of an external service provider,
aims to increase the likelihood that the information received will be sufficiently precise and reliable to enable the commission to follow up the leads with an investigation.
Individuals that are willing to reveal their identity can contact the commission's competition department directly through a dedicated phone number and email address.