EAEA News 2007-01-22
Multilingualism, EU style
"United in diversity" is the motto of the European Union and this is never more evident in the languages it embraces.
This year sees the number of official languages in the Union rise to 23 with the arrival of Bulgaria and Romania as well as the adoption of Irish. This reflects the cultural heritage of Europe and the principle that all EU citizens have access to documents and information in their own languages. It also means that debates in the Parliament will be heard in these languages.
At start of what became the European Union in 1957 there were only 4 languages: Dutch, French, German and Italian. By 1995 there were 11 official languages of the EU. The accession of 10 new countries in 2004 brought in 9 new languages and with the latest additions the number today stands 23 with three separate alphabets.
Latin, Greek and now Cyrillic!
An interesting feature is that the number of the languages is less than the number of the EU countries - that's because some languages are officially used in more than one country.Moreover, Bulgaria's accession added the Cyrillic alphabet which will now be used alongside Latin and Greek.
MEPs choose their language
An essential part of democracy is the right to speak with your own language. This is why MEPs have the right to debate in any official language of their choice. Also all the official documents have to be translated in all the official languages. Otherwise the legal status can not be granted. This has to be taken into account in organizing the work of the Parliament. For example, a parliamentary committee has to calculate always the time needed to complete the necessary translations in order to allow all the members to work with understandable content. This website reflects this policy - allowing you to choose which language they prefer.
Lost in translation?
For the EU multilingualism is a central issue, the new appointed European Commissioner from Romania Leonard Orban represents a further proof of it. Furthermore, the EU supports and promotes multilingualism with different programmes in order to improve linguistic skills of the EU citizens (the most known is the Erasmus programme that celebrates this years its 20th anniversary - 1.2 million students have thus far participated). Language learning is a priority: according to a recent Eurobarometer survey, only half of the EU citizens say they can hold a conversation in a second language apart from their mother tongue. To promote language learning across the EU 26 September has been proclaimed "European Day of Languages" and 2001 was the European Year of Languages.
1.3 million pages translated
To provide this diversity and equality, an essential work allowing the right functioning of the EU is the translator's and interpreter's service - in 2005 1,324,231 pages were translated (the total cost of all the linguistic services of the EU institutions represent merely 1 % of the total EU budget). Last September a Parliamentary report on Multilingualism and interpretation costs drafted by Finnish People's Party member Alexander Stubb highlighted areas in which savings could be made. It also underlined that multilingualism and the ability to understand other speakers in the European Parliament is crucial for European democracy. In November, the MEPs welcomed the European Commission's proposals for a new Framework Strategy to foster the knowledge of languages and to take cultural advantage of them. An own-initiative report drafted by Bernat Joan i Mari, a Spanish Green MEP, states it is essential to improve the quality, effectiveness and accessibility of the education and training systems in the EU by promoting foreign language learning.
(EP press service)
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