EU Translation Scope Defended by Language Director : But There is a Trend Toward English as the Lingua Franca

The great amount of language translation that is required in the European Union because of the many languages of the Member States is a cause of concern to some, but no one has come up with a better solution, and there is little likelihood that anything will change soon.

We ourselves have done translation work for the European Commission and have seen first-hand through that work that translation of important EU documents into the languages of the Member States is essential for Europe.

Teresa Küchler in an EU Observer article from 25 February 2008 quotes Juhani Lonnroth, Director General of the European Commission translation department as follows:

Nobody would wish or dare to touch upon this sacred principle…. Language and power are very closely related. Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have not been keen on teaching their populations other languages than that of the ruling layers, for instance.

Nevertheless, there is trend toward English as the lingua franca of the European Union. Küchler informs us that 88% of European Union websites are in English and 72% of EU institutional texts are now in English, as compared to the figure of 58% of these texts in French in 1986. Obviously, the newer EU Member States do not write in French, but use English, and that will account for the change.

Küchler writes:

In the European Commission, French, German and English are procedural languages, meaning all internal documents as well as EU legislation must be issued in them, while the 20 other EU languages have “official” status, meaning EU legislation appears in these languages.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is, however, entirely run in French, for reasons the head of EU translations claimed he was not aware of.

We have been to the European Court of Justice and it is in fact hard to find anyone among the lower staff at the EU institutions in Luxembourg, including the receptionists, who speak any English at all. Perhaps this is because the average employee in Luxembourg speaks no English, but French, and in some cases German. We generally made headway only by speaking German, which is similar to Letzeburgish. Anyone visiting Luxembourg will quickly understand why translators are essential and why concentration on one language can lead to great difficulty in communication, which is essential at all levels of government.

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