Legal aspects of EU multilingualism

26-01-2017

The multilingualism of the European Union – with 24 official languages since Croatia's accession – has no precedent, either among multilingual states or even at the level of international organisations. The principle of multilingualism is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which obliges the European Union to respect linguistic diversity, prohibits discrimination on account of language and provides for the citizen's right to communicate with the institutions in any official language of the EU. In legal terms, EU multilingualism falls into three categories: the original (authentic) languages of the Treaties, the official languages of the EU and the working languages of the EU. Furthermore, each institution may create its own internal rules on working languages. The main legal act governing the official and working languages of the Union is Council Regulation No 1 of 1958, which has been amended numerous times. Currently it provides for 24 official and working languages of the EU. This includes Irish. However, a derogation for Irish remains in place until the end of 2021. The rules of procedure of each EU institution lay down detailed rules on multilingualism. The Parliament has opted for 'resource efficient full multilingualism', which means that the resources to be devoted to multilingualism are managed on the basis of users' real needs, measures to make users more aware of their responsibilities and more effective planning of requests for language facilities. The Council has opted for full multilingualism, while the Commission's rule is that any instrument of general application to be adopted by the college must be in all EU official languages. A different approach has been provided for in the rules of procedure of the Court of Justice, where the principle of the 'language of the case' applies for determining both the language of proceedings and the authentic version of the Court's judgment. However, judges and advocates-general may use the official EU language of their choice.

The multilingualism of the European Union – with 24 official languages since Croatia's accession – has no precedent, either among multilingual states or even at the level of international organisations. The principle of multilingualism is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which obliges the European Union to respect linguistic diversity, prohibits discrimination on account of language and provides for the citizen's right to communicate with the institutions in any official language of the EU. In legal terms, EU multilingualism falls into three categories: the original (authentic) languages of the Treaties, the official languages of the EU and the working languages of the EU. Furthermore, each institution may create its own internal rules on working languages. The main legal act governing the official and working languages of the Union is Council Regulation No 1 of 1958, which has been amended numerous times. Currently it provides for 24 official and working languages of the EU. This includes Irish. However, a derogation for Irish remains in place until the end of 2021. The rules of procedure of each EU institution lay down detailed rules on multilingualism. The Parliament has opted for 'resource efficient full multilingualism', which means that the resources to be devoted to multilingualism are managed on the basis of users' real needs, measures to make users more aware of their responsibilities and more effective planning of requests for language facilities. The Council has opted for full multilingualism, while the Commission's rule is that any instrument of general application to be adopted by the college must be in all EU official languages. A different approach has been provided for in the rules of procedure of the Court of Justice, where the principle of the 'language of the case' applies for determining both the language of proceedings and the authentic version of the Court's judgment. However, judges and advocates-general may use the official EU language of their choice.