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 Good luck!





European Commission at work

Kamil Augustyniak

Every serious entity, e.g. international organization, state, council  university etc., was founded and based on law and order. Since in the case of educational institution such establishment is relatively easy to accomplish, the nature of state or international organization is more complicated. There are various factors which make an agreement difficult to conclude. The best example of entity struggling with difficulties in a name of a common profit is the European Union which had to challenge its legal system in order to  bring nations closer and introduced, almost impossible for many regions in the world, unified legal order for all Member States.

Headquarters of the European Commission Brussels©EUROpens BLOG

Headquarters of the European Commission, Brussels©EUROpens BLOG

Enforcing European law

The European Union gathers diverse communities into one coherent body. By establishing comprehensive system of legal protection it is able to ensure security of its citizens and allow them to fully enjoy their rights. Since mentioned diversity occurs, sometimes there are problems with enforcing EU law. In order to come across Member States’ infringements the European Commission is on duty to act as “guardian of the treaties”. It means that, together with the Court of Justice of the European Union, they are responsible for making sure EU law is properly applied in all Member States. If it finds a failure to fulfill obligations (therefore not meeting its legal provisions), the Commission takes steps to make the situation right. First of all, it launches a legal process called the “infringement procedure” which involves sending to the government an official letter with explanation why the Commission considers this country is infringing EU law. If this procedure fails (after exceeding given deadline) the Commission refers the issue to the Court of Justice, which has power to impose penalties.

Infringement package – main decisions

Let’s put theory aside and move to practice. The European Commission, in its monthly package of infringement decisions, has summarized February 2015 actions against Member States which failed to fulfill obligations under EU law. It gave several important decisions to ensure proper application of EU law for the benefit of citizens and economies in Europe.

European Commission refers Italy to the Court of Justice due to avoiding paying levies for overproduction of milk.[1] The Commission found infringement in Italian agriculture system and finally channeled the problem to the Court of Justice. In the period from 1995 to 2009 the situation in Italy remained unchanged – every year producers of milk exceeded given amount of milk and caused overproduction which forced the Italian state to paid the Commission supplementary due (EUR 2.305 billion). However, Italian authorities did not take any appropriate measures in order to exact fees from producers. According to the Commission, such situation threaten the market competitiveness and violates EU law, which clearly states that charges should be paid by producers who exceeded their individual milk quotas.

The Commission calls Germany to comply with the reference period when calculating the average weekly working time in German civil service. The European Commission has called Germany to comply the period referred to in Directive (2003/88/EC) on working time in the calculation of the average maximum weekly working time, in the case of civil servants. Under this Directive, employees are entitled to a reduction of average weekly working time to 48 hours in reference period up to four months. It means that employees can be required to work more than 48 hours in some weeks. However, German law provides such system for 12 month period. The Directive allows Member States to establish longer reference period in certain situations but even in such cases the period should not exceed 6 months. The only exception that allows to extend this period to 12 months is a collective consent. As long as German public service does not provide such, German law is in contrary to the directive on working time. The current request takes a form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedure. Germany has two months to inform the Commission of the measures taken to adapt national legislation to EU law. Otherwise, the Commission can decide to refer Member State before the Court of Justice.

The Commission requests Greece, Portugal and Slovenia to comply with EU rules on Energy Efficiency Directive. Under the Directive (2012/27/EU) Member States are in duty to achieve energy savings in period from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2020. The Directive had to be transposed into national law by 5 June 2014 and this is why a reasoned opinion has been sent to Greece and Portugal with request to notify the Commission of all their transposition measures for the Directive.

If the EU law will not be properly adapted, the Commission can ask for financial sanctions for those Member States before the Court of Justice. What is more, Slovenia which has already transposed the Directive into national order is asked to submit a National Energy Efficiency Action Plan and long-term strategy for renovation of buildings in order to diminish wasting energy. Since Slovenia did not do meet a given deadline, the Commission’s request takes the form of a reasoned opinion. If Slovenia will not follow legal obligations within two months, the Commission can decide to refer it to the Court of Justice.

The Commission withdraws case against Poland for failing to transpose EU provisions.[2] In January 2011, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Polish government in order to clarify the situation in Polish law concerning the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC). The Directive goal is to ensure 20% share in renewable energy in the EU by 2020 and had to be fully transposed by Member States by 5 December 2010. Later on, in March 2012, the same institution delivered a reasoned opinion due to lack of sufficient measures done by Poland but the situation did not changed. As a result, in March 2013, the Commission referred the case to the Court of Justice for complete absence of transposition and charged Poland to EUR 133.228,80  for every day of delay. Since Poland notified the full transposition of the Directive on 29 January 2015, the Commission withdrew the case from the court.

Additional materials:

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