Translation Services & The European Union
With its twenty-seven member countries, the European Union (EU) is a highly multilingual organization. As a result, translation services are of key importance.
Among all the languages spoken by people living in the EU countries, twenty-three are official languages. Those languages are as follows: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish. Catalan, Galician and Russian are some of the languages that are non-recognized in the EU.
It is important for the EU to encourage its citizens to have the ability to speak several languages (in particular, two languages besides their mother language). According to statistics, the most widely spoken and understood languages in the European Union include English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian.
As a multilingual organization, the EU has to provide language services in order to help its citizens understand EU policies and documents. Moreover, thanks to this translation work, the efficiency, legitimacy, and openness of the EU are strengthened. Legislation and various other important documents are translated in all the official languages, but this represents only a small part of the translation work. Correspondence or communications with the national authorities make up a significantly larger part of the other documents that are translated into the languages required. However, English, with about sixty per cent of all paperwork written in that language, is unofficially the language of correspondence within the EU.
The annual budget the EU devotes to maintaining multilingualism is quite substantial. Indeed, according to the European Commission, the annual cost of translation and interpretation can go from 875 million dollars U.S. (670 million euros) to 1.3 billion dollars U.S. (1 billion euros): this expenditure accounts for 1% of the EU annual general budget. About 2,000 written-text translators and 80 interpreters per language per day work for the EU institutions. For some languages spoken by a small number of people such as Maltese (around 370,000 people), it is hard to find enough qualified translators.
The EU translation operation is the largest in the world. Indeed, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) is the world’s largest translation service with about 1,750 linguists who are employed full-time in addition to a large number of freelance translators all over the world. All the translators working there are university graduates. The translations – into and out of all the EU’s official languages – are only done for the European Commission. The DGT’s translation assignments include written communication (in print and on the web) as well as terminology research.
Besides that, there is the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union, an agency of the EU. Its mission is to provide the translation services needed by the other EU agencies. It can also meet the needs of the EU institutions and other bodies having their own translation services. It has contributed to several projects such as the creation of a terminology database for the EU called IATE (InterActive Terminology for Europe). As for interpretation, the Directorate-General for Interpretation is in charge of verbal interpretation services for the European Union.