Multilingualism in the European Parliament
In the European Parliament, all official languages are equally important: parliamentary documents are published in all the official languages of the European Union (EU) and Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have the right to speak and write in the official language of their choice. It also ensures everyone is able to follow and access the Parliament’s work.
The European Union has always seen its great diversity of cultures and languages as an asset. Firmly rooted in the European treaties, multilingualism is the reflection of this cultural and linguistic diversity. It also makes the European institutions more accessible and transparent for all citizens of the Union, which is essential for the success of the EU’s democratic system.
The European Parliament differs from the other EU institutions in its obligation to ensure the highest possible degree of multilingualism. Every European citizen has the right to stand for election to the European Parliament. It would be unreasonable to require MEPs to have a perfect command of one of the more frequently used languages, such as French or English. The right of each Member to read and write parliamentary documents, follow debates and speak in his or her own language is expressly recognised in Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. All EU citizens must be able to read legislation affecting them in the language of their own country. As a co-legislator, the European Parliament also has a duty to ensure that the linguistic quality of all laws it adopts is flawless in all official languages.
Europeans are entitled to follow the Parliament’s work, ask questions and receive replies in their own language, under European legislation.
Languages used in the European Parliament
What a long way we have come since the end of the 1950s, when four languages only were spoken in the institutions of the European Communities! Today, no fewer than 24 official languages are used in the European Parliament, which is an immense linguistic challenge.
Each time new Member States have joined the EU, they have added to the number of official languages.
Official EU language since…
- Dutch, French, German, Italian: 1958
- Danish, English: 1973
- Greek: 1981
- Portuguese, Spanish: 1986
- Finnish, Swedish: 1995
- Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovene: 2004
- Bulgarian, Irish, Romanian: 2007
- Croatian: 2013
EU official languages are set out in a regulation, which is amended after each accession to add the new official languages. All official languages enjoy equal status.
The 24 official languages make a total of 552 possible combinations, since each language can be translated into 23 others. In order to meet this challenge, the European Parliament has set up highly efficient interpreting, translation and legal text verification services. Very strict rules have been put in place to ensure that these services function smoothly and that the costs remain reasonable.
The European Parliament’s translation service enables multilingual written and electronic communication in all official languages of the European Union. It has a crucial role in ensuring the transparency of the legislative and budgetary process of the EU and in bringing the EU closer to its citizens.
The Directorate-General for Translation employs approximately 1140 staff, among them more than 600 translators, and is one of the biggest employers of its kind in the world.
The main task of the European Parliament’s interpreters is to render orally the speeches given by MEPs faithfully and in real time into all the official languages. Interpreting services are provided for all multilingual meetings organised by the official bodies of the institution.
The European Parliament’s Directorate-General for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences employs approximately 270 staff interpreters and has at its disposal a reserve of some 1500 external accredited interpreters whom it calls on very regularly as required to cover its needs.
Multilingualism - Legislative Acts
The legislation adopted by the European Parliament affects over 447 million people in 27 countries and 24 official languages: it must be identical and as clear as possible in all the languages. Verifying the linguistic and legislative quality of the texts is the job of Parliament's lawyer-linguists.
Parliament's lawyer-linguists ensure, throughout the legislative procedure, the highest possible quality of legislative texts in all EU languages. In order to guarantee that Parliament's political will is rendered in high quality legislative texts the lawyer-linguists are involved at all stages of the legislative procedure.
The work is carried out by a team of 75 lawyer-linguists. In particular they:
- provide Members and committee secretariats with drafting and procedural advice from the initial drafting of texts up to final adoption in plenary;
- prepare and publish legislative texts for adoption by Parliament in committee and in plenary, ensuring the highest quality of all the different language versions of the amendments in the reports and the smooth course of the procedure;
- are responsible for the technical preparation of amendments tabled for the plenary and for the publication of all the texts adopted on the day of the plenary vote;
- finalise legislative acts together with the lawyer-linguists of the Council.