Multilingual Europe

Kamil Augustyniak

In the very beginning, the European Union was established in order to challenge the politics and economy, to give Europeans a field to cooperate and to unify their nations even on grounds of culture. Through all these years various mechanisms were implemented to clarify and stabilize the situation, no matter what background it had. Surely, Europe experienced a lot of conflicts but thanks to that it learned how to react in certain situations and to what focus its attention the most. Although, currently, the EU is struggling with migrants and the presence of United Kingdom within the Union is questioned, there are some issues which are not being discussed almost at all but seem to be crucial when talking about European integration.

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Multilingual Europe

Europe of multitude of languages is both advantage and disadvantage. International arena is a place where not only political and economic interests intersect each other but is also a background highlighting cultural differences, especially languages. Hence international communication is difficult on any grounds, dealing with multilingualism is a first challenge of all international organizations gathering entities which speak in different languages. This is why, in order to ensure good communication within its structures, some languages are established to be official and to which all the documents, declarations or agreements are being translated. The bigger the organization is, the demand for smooth communication increases.

EU likes every language

Although the European Union does not outstand by its size among the organizations all over the world, its multilingualism policy is much more complex than any other. Along with expansion of the Communities (later the European Union) specific regulation was amended by adding a new official languages of the member states joining the Union. Starting from one official language (French), the list of them expanded to reach 24 in 2013 after last accession of Croatia. The language system of the European Union has very deep foundations based on principle preserving national identity of all member states. One of the most important act concerning this issue is EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – art. 22:

“The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.”

European Union law…Droit de l’Union européenne…Europarecht…Prawo Unii Europejskiej



Since the complexity of the rule mentioned above is crucial to preserve proper European integration, the most important goal to protect linguistic diversity is to ensure the availability of EU law to all citizens. For this reason, each EU institution has created departments dealing with language translations and 24 sections consisting of interpreters translating acts of the European Union. All official versions of documents are considered to be equivalent and authentic. What is more, every EU citizen has the right to send petitions, to address the institutions and bodies and even to obtain a reply in their own language. This right is guaranteed under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – art. 20:

Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights and be subject to the duties provided for in the Treaties. They shall have, inter alia: (…) (d) the right to petition the European Parliament, to apply to the European Ombudsman, and to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the Union in any of the Treaty languages and to obtain a reply in the same language. (…).

At this point the EU successes since it united in diversity. However, with so many languages and texts, it is easy to notice the danger which the EU has to face with when implementing its innovative linguistic pluralism policy. Multiple translations rise a further risk of not presenting the correct content of the message (sometimes it is a translation of a translation). Therefore, it causes some logistic and financial issues and then all these infringements can have serious consequences, e.g. conflict between member states or inconsistent application of EU law.

For what?

The Union seeks to facilitate crossing language barriers for delegates and representatives of member states, barriers that could limit full and comprehensive participation in the work of EU institutions. This is achieved by simultaneous translations which are especially important during plenary sessions of the Parliament, during which there are 800-1000 interpreters translating the text from original language into their natives. However, taking into account constraints of time and money, translation of all documents to all working languages is impossible. Therefore, the most commonly used are English, French and German.

To sum up, linguistic diversity is one of the factors that undoubtedly distinguishes the European Union but also brings many difficulties when speaking about its practical use. Since there are more than 500 language combinations within the EU working languages and all of these translations have to be done, sometimes the translated versions are not completely identical and, consequently, bring many legal issues in the process of further implementation.

Check out interesting case-law related to linguistic diversity in the European Union:

Case T‑185/05:






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