Working in the Court of Justice of the European Union: An interview with Angela Rogner

Emil Wojtaluk

 

 

Angela Rogner (photo: Cezary Ruta)

Her mother tongue is German and she studied French and English Conference Interpreting at Charles University Graz, Austria. In 1992, she moved to Prague where she worked as a lecturer of German as a foreign language, and at the same time learned Czech. In 1999, she took successfully part in an interpreter competition at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and in 2004 she joined their staff. Since then, she interprets at court hearings from 5 languages (French, English, Czech, Slovak, Spanish) into German. Here it is: an interview with Angela Rogner, an interpreter with the Court of Justice of the European Union.

 

 

 

 

1) You work as an interpreter in the Court of Justice of the European Union since 2004. Could you explain the process of applying for a job and the stages of recruitment for your position?

I took part in a competition. A competition is a selection process for staff of the EU institutions, handled by EPSO, the European Personnel Selection Office. At that time, every institution still had their own selection procedure. In 1999, an Austrian friend told me about a competition for interpreters at the European of Court of Justice. We decided to go, without big hopes to succeed. The Court of Justice seemed like a mysterious institution and we were sure that the exams would be difficult. They consisted of consecutive and simultaneous interpretation from three EU languages into our German mother tongue. My three languages were French, English and Spanish. My friend unfortunately failed, but I succeeded, to my big surprise. For several years I was on a reserve list for a post at the Court of Justice, and in 2003, before the major enlargement, I got an offer to become a staff interpreter in the German booth. They knew I had Czech in my language combination, and the institutions were looking for people with enlargement languages. Later, I also started interpreting from Slovak. On 31 December 2003, my family was packed up and we left for Luxembourg.

 

2) Did you study law or is this not a prior condition for becoming an interpreter with the CJEU?

I have a university diploma in Conference Interpreting from the University of Graz, Austria. My diploma thesis dealt with the terminology of international treaties, but I did not study law as such. Nevertheless, law has been part of my professional life, in some way or another, during my time as a free-lance interpreter in Austria, and as a translator for a Czech law firm in Prague. A formal law diploma is not required for CJEU interpreters, but a certain knowledge of and an interest in law are an advantage. Of course, there are posts in the EU institutions where a formal law diploma is required.

 

3) What does your work consist of on a daily basis? Do you have to prepare for specific court hearings?

The bulk of my work is preparation. Every week, I am assigned to a number of hearings in cases where German is needed. In order to interpret well at these hearings, I have to be well prepared. The interpreters have access to the case file and study the documents submitted to the Court. A case is not only about specific terminology in various languages, but mainly about a legal dispute that we should understand. What are the parties arguing about, what is the core of the issue? What arguments are put forward? Without sound preparation, we would be unable to adequately interpret a hearing. Proceedings at the CJEU can be brought in any official language. Very often, we have a manifold linguistic situation: The language of the proceedings is, say, English, but various governments of EU Member states intervene, and they will all speak their languages: Greek, German, Lithuanian, French, or Polish.

 

4) Could you explain to our readers, from your own experience, how the principle of impartiality of the judges works in practice? Did you experience anything that could be considered as „unusual” during the Court proceedings?

Sorry to disappoint you, but I never experienced a situation where the judges of the CJEU would not be impartial. People sometimes think that the Polish, the Czech, the Hungarian, the Austrian or any other judge are „loyal” towards their own countries. If this were the case and the Austrian judge would decide in favour of his home country in a case where Austria is sued by the European Commission, European law would be invalidated. The judges operate solely on the basis of European law and interpret it in the light of the given case. Anything else would undermine the very principle of EU jurisdiction.

 

5) What is your position on the current EU proceedings against the Polish government concerning the rule of law and Poland’s judiciary? Is that a discussed issue among the staff of CJEU?

As an interpreter, I have to be impartial. This does not mean that I do not have my own opinion on various matters, but when I work, it must not shine through. My job is to faithfully and convincingly render the arguments of the speaker in the target language, whatever the speaker’s position is. I will not be assigned to the hearing in the case you mentioned, since it will probably be dealt with in Polish and Polish is not yet one of my working languages. Maybe I will have to disappoint you again, but I am not familiar with the precise pleas in law brought against Poland by the Commission. Of course, the events that have taken place in Poland are discussed in the European press and by people interested in the developments in Poland, but there is no special discussion at the CJEU. I believe that judicial independence and the irremovability of judges are very important for the rule of law.

 

6) Finally, what would you advise to students and graduates who aim to work in the EU institutions?

Get a university diploma in the field you are interested in, go abroad, learn languages, apply for an internship with the EU institutions. Check the websites of the institutions where sometimes temporary posts are offered. Take part in an EPSO competition. Don’t give up if it does not work the first time. Try again. Don’t lose your enthusiasm! We need young people who believe in the EU, you are Europe’s future. Additional remark for young interpreters: The CJEU offers also interpreting internships, check out the website www.curia.europa.eu. Good luck!

 

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