Tongue-tied

For many people, the EU speaks a language all of its own.

It’s a particular blend of desiccated jargon, with phrases such as “council framework decision” “comitology” and “third pillar” regularly uttered by those on the Brussels circuit.

My favourite entry by far in the dictionary of Eurospeak is a “non-paper.” To my bemusement, I learned that it was a policy paper – but wasn’t as yet a final, agreed policy.

In fact, the EU has 20 official languages, which swirl through the interpretation and translation rooms across Brussels and beyond.

And on Monday, this linguistic count will rise to 23 when Bulgarian, Romanian and Irish receive official status.

Major documents and big press conferences are usually offered in all the languages. For example, you can watch and listen as interpreters deftly put English-speaking government ministers or parliamentarians into Finnish, Greek, Slovenian, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Latvian and others.

EU interpreters cover 11,000 meetings a year. The growth next week in the number of official languages will provide ample ammunition for critics of the system who argue that Brussels has become a Tower of Babel.

Indeed, it costs tens of millions of euros each year to provide the interpretation and translation services - and all the while English and French dominate.

Despite this, the array of languages is a must. Ministers have a right to speak their native tongue in tough EU negotiations and members of the European parliament and commissioners should be able to communicate in their own languages.

Most importantly, any of the EU’s soon-to-be nearly 500m citizens must have the opportunity to understand in their own language what the EU does.

That is if the world of “council framework decisions” and “comitology” can ever be communicated in plain words, no matter what the language. Sarah Laitner

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