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Commission steps up its translation capacity to meet demands of enlargement

European Commission - MEMO/04/34   17/02/2004

Other available languages: FR DE

MEMO/04/34

Brussels, 17 February 2004

Commission steps up its translation capacity to meet demands of enlargement

On 1 May 2004, just 2.5 months from now, ten new member states will be joining the European Union. The challenges posed by this enlargement are economic, political, administrative - and linguistic. Linguistic diversity is both an objective and a challenge for all the EU institutions. Linguistic diversity is a value in itself and its preservation a sign of respect for the cultural identities of the EU's citizens. It is also a democratic right. The EU adopts legislation which is directly binding on its citizens, who cannot be expected to comply with laws which they do not understand. Therefore these laws must be promulgated in their languages. Moreover, the EU's citizens have a right to know what the EU is doing in their name and to contribute their own suggestions and comments on the building of the Union. Therefore the EU institutions must communicate with them in their own language. The EU is unique as being the only international organization to which all its citizens can speak in their own language. While safeguarding the capacity to communicate with their citizens, the EU institutions also have to ensure efficiency in their day-to-day operations. All the institutions are working hard to prepare for the enlargement and to meet this challenge.

For the Commission this entails the following:

  • The number of official languages will rise by 82%, from 11 to 20.

  • The number of pages translated is expected to increase by about 40% from 1 480 000 pages in 2003 to 2 065 000 pages in 2004 and as many as 2 370 000 pages in 2005.

  • The additional staff required will be 60 translators per language. If freelance translators and support staff are included, the total increase will be about 110 people. This compares with 1,300 translators now working in the Commission.

  • The cost of translation in the Commission will rise, according to estimates, from some 230 M€ to just under 320 M€ (for reference, the estimated increase in the total cost of translation in all EU institutions is from roughly 550 m€ today to 808 M€ post- enlargement).

Commission measures to increase internal efficiency and reduce costs

  • Documents for Commission meetings always come in English, French and German (plus the language of any individual directly concerned by the decision, for example in competition cases), and the final versions are translated into the remaining official languages immediately afterwards, before being sent to the other Institutions for debate and approval. In the Commission the common practice has been to use predominantly English and French in internal meetings. Internal documents sent by the administration to the staff are in most cases distributed in English, French and German.

How is the Commission preparing for enlargement?

The Commission has been actively preparing itself for the arrival of new languages for a number of years:

    Translation Coordination Units and field offices

  • TAIEX (Technical Assistance Information Exchange Office), an office of DG Enlargement set up in 1996, was mandated to support the setting up and maintaining of a centralised translation and interpretation capacity in each candidate country. With this support, candidate countries therefore set up Translation Coordination Units (TCUs) within national ministries between 19951999. The TCUs are all public bodies.

  • Since 16 June 2003, field offices, attached to Commission Delegations, have been operational in nine future Member States. The field offices do translation work in the actual cultural setting of the languages concerned, give advice on translator training, terminology and language issues and keep up contacts with higher education establishments, translation schools and professional associations of translators.

    Staff and recruitment

  • Since early 2003, 27 translators have been recruited to the field offices (3 translators in each).

  • Early in 2003, selection procedures were launched to recruit 7 translators per language as temporary staff in the language departments for new languages located in Luxembourg. There are now 35 translators for all the new languages working in Luxembourg, and the number is increasing, so that the target of 63 translators (9 x 7) can be reached by 1 May.

  • An inter-institutional competition for recruiting translators as permanent officials was launched in 2003. This competition has now reached the end of the first selection stage (pre-selection test).

  • The target is to obtain a reserve list of 135 translators for all institutions. From this list the institutions would recruit their permanent translators. The aim was to create a pool of 300 candidates per language in the first selection stage. The target was met for Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak, but fell short, to a greater or lesser degree, for Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Maltese and Slovenian (The number of candidates who sat and passed the written part of the competition are: CS: 691-301; ET: 207-118; HU: 1212-301; LT: 278-123; LV: 125-67; MT: 94-37; PL: 2155-306; SL: 318-155; SK: 769-301)

  • As soon as the reserve lists of the selected candidates have been established, the recruitment of translators as permanent officials will proceed at a rate of 20 translators per language per year up to 2006. The total target of staff is 60 translators per language (540 in all) and 15 support staff per language (these are recruited on the basis of non-linguistic competitions also currently under way, 135 in all) by 2006.

    Freelance translation

A call for tenders for the Commission was launched early 2003. The number of bids received ranged from 13 to 97 per language and they are presently being evaluated. By May 2004, we expect to have between 6 and 50 contracts per language with freelance translators or agencies.

In addition, there has been an inter-institutional call for tender for free-lance translators which was also launched early 2003. As the result of this call, 67 contracts have been signed between the Commission and the freelance translators.

The Commission translated 1.4 million pages in 2003. 21% of this was translated by freelances. The global target of the Commission is to increase the proportion done by freelances from 2004 to 2006 to a figure of 30% by 2006.

Who is responsible for what?

  • The responsibility for translating existing EU law (the Treaties and secondary legislation adopted up to 30 April 2004), acquis communautaire, into the languages of the future Member States lies with their governments, not with the EU. This translation work is done by the Translation Coordination Units. In addition to producing the translated texts, revision and quality control must also be carried out. The acquis comes to about 85 000 pages.

  • The responsibility of the Community institutions more specifically, the Council and the Commission is the finalisation and publication of the translated texts in the special edition of the Official Journal of the European Union.

  • The Commission has provided support in terms of receiving temporary trainees from the accession countries, advising on translator training needs and building up terminology resources.

How far are we now?

    In-house training of translators

  • The Commission has offered training to its own staff since 1998, to create capacity to translate from the new languages into the current EU languages. In January 2004, 211 translators of different existing language departments were studying these languages. 69 of these have reached full proficiency (CS: 13, ET: 1, HU 15, LT: 1, LV: 1, MT: 0, PL: 29, SK: 1, SL: 8).

    Building up terminology resources

  • The Commission is currently building up translation memories and Community-relevant core terminology and other data bases in the new languages. This work has speeded up dramatically since the beginning of 2004, following the conclusion of contracts with outside contractors.

    Transitional arrangements

  • As from 1 May, new legislation will also have to be translated into the new official languages. The multi-annual phasing-in period of new staff means that transitional arrangements will have to be introduced before reaching full capacity. The Commission will have to adopt a demand control approach whereby priorities are defined and a distinction is made between priority documents and documents of lesser importance. The priority category includes of course legislation, but also state aid notifications, official communications to Council and Parliament, etc. It goes without saying that the right of EU citizens to communicate with the Institutions in their own language and to receive a reply in the same language is also included in the priority category.

Legal basis for multilingualism and internal rules

  • The legal basis for multilingualism in the EU is Article 21 of the EC Treaty and Council Regulation No 1 of 1958. The Regulation requires all legislation to be drafted in all the official languages, and the Regulation and the Treaty say that citizens can write to an EU institution in any of the official languages and must receive an answer in that language.

  • Article 6 of Regulation 1/58 also says that each institution may have its own arrangements for applying the languages rules.

About the Directorate-General for Translation

  • The European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation is the largest translation service in the world. Located in Brussels and Luxembourg, it has a permanent staff of some 1 300 linguists and 500 support staff, and also uses freelance translators all over the world. Known within the Commission as the DGT, the service translates written text into and out of all the EU's 11 official languages, exclusively for the European Commission. With Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak and Slovenian added to the existing 11 official languages, the DGT will translate into and out of 20 languages from 1 May 2004. All Commission translators and support staff for the new languages will work in Luxembourg.

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