The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens on how translation and interpretation are organised in the European Parliament.
The European Union has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
Under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, citizens have the right to communicate with European Union institutions in any of these official languages. In addition, under the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, Members have the right to speak in Parliament in the official language of their choice, with these speeches simultaneously interpreted into the other official languages.
Using 24 languages creates 552 possible language combinations. To cope with these, the European Parliament uses a system of ‘relay’ languages: a speaker or a text is first interpreted or translated into one of the most widely used languages (English, French or German), and then into other languages. As a rule, each interpreter and translator works into his/her mother tongue.
The Directorate-General for Translation ensures that Parliament’s documents are available in all the official languages of the European Union, thus enabling Parliament to meet its commitment to its policy of multilingualism.
Under the European Parliament’s internal policies (known as the ‘Code of conduct on multilingualism’), priority for translation is given to documents to be voted on in plenary, documents for the President, documents for parliamentary committees, etc. As a result, it may be that some other types of documents are not translated in all official languages.
The European Parliament employs about 600 translators. To cope with the ever-increasing level of demand, the Directorate-General outsources the translation of some texts. The outsourcing of translation assignments is based on document type and workload. Documents of the highest priority, i.e. legislative documents and documents to be put to the vote in plenary are, as far as internal resources permit, translated in-house. Other types of documents, especially administrative texts, are frequently outsourced.
The Directorate-General for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences is responsible for the linguistic, technical and logistical support for the organisation of parliamentary meetings and conferences. Besides plenary sittings, interpretation is also provided in committee and delegation meetings from and into the official languages used and requested by the Members.
Sign language interpretation is also provided in Parliament’s plenary debates, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the EU in December 2010.
The European Parliament employs approximately 270 interpreters and has a reserve of about 1500 external accredited interpreters at its disposal.
Ensuring the quality of legislative acts
The legislation adopted by the European Union affects over 500 million people in 28 countries and 24 official languages: so that everyone can understand, it must be identical and as clear as possible in all official languages. Verifying the linguistic and legislative quality of the texts is the job of Parliament’s team of 75 lawyer-linguists, working together with lawyer-linguists of the Council. They ensure, throughout the legislative procedure, the highest possible quality of legislative texts in all EU languages.
Continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.
- Multilingualism in the European Parliament, European Parliament website.
- Code of conduct on multilingualism, European Parliament website.
- European Strategy for multilingualism: benefits and costs, Policy Department, European Parliament.