Visiting Scholar from Vienna: Bucerius research stint was worth the whistle

Mag. Iur. Franziska Katharina Lehner, Visiting Scholar from the University of Vienna, Austria, spent one year at Bucerius Law School. Her research focus: whistleblowing and its relationship with compliance regulations.

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What is the major focus of your research in Vienna and here at Bucerius?

My research focuses on whistleblowing and its relationship with compliance regulations from a constitutional- and human-rights law perspective. While aspects of labor and corporate law have to be taken into consideration when examining this issue, my key research question is the role of whistleblowing with regard to the right to freedom of speech enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I have been conducting a series of interviews with professors, lawyers and reporters in line with the central question of my doctoral thesis.

What are the main issues in your research area?

Whistleblowing has been a topic of considerable interest across different legal cultures for some time now. Some countries, such as the USA, have a wide array of whistleblower (protection) laws. Meanwhile, in Germany and Austria whistleblowing regulations are either still being developed or have not been satisfactorily applied, with the result that the rights in question have not been adequately protected. The research widely relies on the interpretation of case law against the backdrop of the constitutional order and human rights principles. The application of these laws and principles to a typical whistleblowing case – for example, an employee disclosing the wrongdoings of his or her employer – gives rise to an array of questions, among which the primary one is the obligation of the state to actively protect individual human rights.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your stay at Bucerius, and what would you recommend to others who are thinking of applying for such a fellowship?

The infrastructure, resources and atmosphere at Bucerius Law School surpassed all expectations. Both with regard to my research and on a personal level, I have greatly profited from this outstanding fellowship. The professors at this institution are extremely forthcoming and enthusiastic. During my stay, I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a seminar on comparative law hosted by the president of the law school, Professor Boele-Woelki, and Professor Thorn. The professional wisdom of these academics challenged my work, while the active discussion among fellow PhD and doctoral students widened my perspective. In every regard, this seminar greatly contributed to the quality of my methodological skills, and thus to my thesis. I would highly recommend this seminar to all researchers with an international focus.

Why did you decide to conduct your research in Germany, and at Bucerius in particular?

Thus far, the most prominent whistleblowing case decided by the European Court of Human Rights had its origins in Germany (Heinisch). In addition, one of the most prominent cases on freedom of speech originated in Austria (Lingens). I therefore decided on a comparative analysis of whistleblowing in these two countries. Both have adopted prominent positions on the subject within Europe, but still need to develop detailed whistleblowing regulations. Bucerius Law School is a prized institution, not only on the German legal scene. I was fortunate to get to know the law school personally during an internship at Hogan Lovell’s International LLP a year earlier. After talking to colleagues (former students of Bucerius) and visiting the campus, I knew a fellowship at Bucerius would allow me to conduct my research into German law in an outstanding international setting, which is exactly what the study of whistleblowing requires. Thankfully, my supervisor, Professor Konrad Lachmayer, immediately supported my wish to conduct research abroad.

You spent nearly a year in Germany. How did you feel about living here? What was the biggest challenge in settling in Hamburg?

Let me begin by saying that I fell in love with Hamburg right from the start. The authenticity and diversity of the city and its people took me by surprise, while the water and multitude of bridges were an added bonus. While it may be hard to find a decent place to rent, the Bucerius students help where they can, and the city itself is very livable and affordable (if you know where to shop). It’s super-easy to get everywhere with your bike, and on rainy days you can use the city’s great public transport system. I especially liked the fact that taking a ferry to get from A to B is just as much an option as going by bus or tram. My biggest challenge in settling in Hamburg was making the transition from being a tourist or newcomer to maintaining a strict work schedule. At the end of the day, when you are a researcher you are your own boss and accountable only to yourself, so it can be easy to stray when so many distractions (Elbufer, Planten un Blomen, the lively Schanzenviertel or the Italian flair of the Treppenviertel) are right on your doorstep.

Hamburg