Translation Industry News | 02.09.2009

The importance of translators in the EU

Translators play a key role within the EU and its institutions. Their role is to strengthen multilingual communication in Europe and help Europeans understand EU policies. In particular, the work of written translators enables the EU to meet its legal obligations in terms of providing the public with information regarding laws and directives. EU directives stipulate certain end results that must be achieved in every Member State. Directives are used to bring different national laws into line with each other and are particularly common in matters that affect the single market (e.g. product safety standards). An example of a recent Directive translated into various languages is Directive 2007/51/EC which relates to restrictions on the marketing of certain measuring devices containing mercury. Translators play a vital role in ensuring that such documents are available to EU citizens in all the official EU languages.

Translators are employed by the European Parliament, Council of the EU, European Commission, European Court of Justice, European Court of Auditors, European Central Bank and the EU Translation Centre.

Let us look at the role of translators within one of these institutions, namely the European Parliament.

The European Parliament has an in-house translation service which it uses to produce the different language versions of its written documents. The translators often have to work to tight deadlines imposed by parliamentary procedures.

The Parliament employs almost 700 translators in its translation service. Their job is to translate several categories of document into all the official EU languages. These documents include:

  • plenary documents and committee documents: agendas, draft reports, amendments, adopted reports, opinions, resolutions, written and oral questions, minutes and reports of proceedings, notices to Members, etc;
  • documents from other political bodies, such as the joint parliamentary assemblies consisting of Members of the European Parliament and national MPs or elected representatives of third countries;
  • decisions by the European Ombudsman (the European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Union).
  • information for European citizens and for the Member States;
  • decisions made by Parliament’s governing bodies (Bureau, Conference of Presidents or the College of Quaestors – the European Parliament body responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning Members and their working conditions).

Translators usually translate into their mother tongue. The European Union has recently been enlarged to include 27 Member States. This has meant that the number of possible language combinations has increased to 506 (23 official languages which can be translated into 22 others). It is not always easy to find someone able to translate from a specific source language into a specific target language, especially where the least widely spoken languages in the Union are concerned.

To translate texts written in these languages, the European Parliament has implemented a system of ‘relay’ languages: a text is first translated into one of the most widely used languages (English, French or German) and from these languages into the minor languages. Other major Community languages (Italian, Polish and Spanish) might also become relay languages in due course.


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