Translation in the European Union – Facts and Figures

The translation flow is an enormous challenge to the EU


Translation in the European Union - Facts and Figures


The translation flow is an enormous challenge to the EU. A serious amount of workforce is engaged as permanent or temporary staff, as trainees, freelancers and contractors. It is not possible to present the official figures of the entire translation staff outside and within the EU, as competitions are constantly being organized and especially with corporate contractors there would be no way to collect the number of translators, working part- or full-time on EU translation.

The First Official and Working Languages

The first Community Regulation determining official languages was passed in 1958: Regulation number 1 determining the languages to be used by the EEC. At the time Dutch, French, German and Italian were specified as the first official and working languages of the EU.

There are two main entitlements for languages with “official and working” status, as the website of the European Commission describes:

– documents may be sent to EU institutions and a reply received in any of these languages
– EU regulations and other legislative documents are published in the official and working languages, as is the Official Journal

Logically, the Regulation is amended every time a new language is added. Moreover, a special Council Conclusion 2005/C 148/01 was passed with regard to the use of additional languages within the Council. The Conclusion says that additional languages, other than the languages referred to in Council Regulation No 1/1958 “whose status is recognized by the Constitution of a Member State on all or part of its territory or the use of which as a national language is authorised by law”, may be allowed to use such a language as a means of communication between the member state and the European Parliament and Council (and other authorities) in certain cases, described in the mentioned Conclusion. An example of such a language is Catalan.

Even though all official languages are also theoretically considered working languages, in practice only three languages are widely and unofficially accepted as EU working languages – English, German and French. For EU citizens it is good to know that every EU official language can be used as a means of correspondence with the EU bodies. Moreover, according to the founding treaty of the EU, an EU national has the right to receive a reply in the same language.

Current Figures

In 2013, the EU increased its official languages with one more, after Croatia joined the Union on 1 July. Now they are 24 for the 28 member states. With the candidates countries Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey the official languages may one day reach 29.

There are several responsible bodies in charge of translation, such as the two Directorates General for Translation of the European Commission and of the European Parliament and the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union based in Luxembourg, which serve the EU agencies. The Centre currently has 210 staff members, 100 of them being translators. The other EU institutions also have their own translation units.

According to official figures from the Translation Directorate General of the European Commission, in 2012 it translated a total of 1 760 615 pages. The greatest percentage of translated pages was into English – 14,92%, followed by French (8,25%) and German (6,45%). Only 0,38% (6,680 pages) were translated into other languages apart from the official EU languages, which then were 23. The least translated target EU languages were Latvian and Estonian (3,41% each), Maltese (3,37%), and Irish (only 0,41%). In 2012 a total of 2 273 permanent and temporary staff was employed in translation, translators being 64,8% (1 474).


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