The European Union (EU) is made up of some 23 countries (states), most of whom have their own unique language. Currently each of the recordings of the plenary debates is translated into 22 languages at a huge cost with each taking up to 4 months to produce. The current EU translations budget is reputedly the largest of any organisation anywhere in the world but plans are underway to make cuts. Lawmakers approved a proposal recently where the recordings are made in their original language but only translated into another language following a request by that member state. The savings are hoped to be somewhere in the region of €8 million per year. A more radical change to translate everything just into English which would have saved even more costs was rejected on the basis that it was linguistically unjust.
It is worth pointing out that these translation costs are in addition to the costs of the live interpreting of plenary debates that are available to anyone who wants to listen to them in their own language. These video recordings are also available live in real time on the Internet. Scaling down the plenary translation service has been on agendas of the administration and MEPs for a number of years, but that only now is the video service being used enough to justify the change. The move may come as a disappointment to defenders of multilingualism, some of whom have described the Parliament as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of languages against what they view as the flood of English into EU Institutions. However, the reality is in these days of austerity, drastic monetary cuts are needed right across the board to reflect the worldwide recession threat, and some even advocate that the €8 million savings are not enough.
While money spent on translation services is often described as the ‘cost of democracy’, British Conservative MEP, Geoffrey Van Orden, does not believe the EU institutions need to translate documents into every language to preserve their principles. He has campaigned long and hard for a reduction in the translation budget and interestingly draws parallels with how other large multi-nation organisations handle their translation requirements. He says “NATO has 28 member countries and just two working languages and the UN has 193 member states and six working languages. Why must all our documents be translated into 22 different languages? It is one of the most costly parts of parliament’s budget.” We think he has a valid point.
The EU has to be alive to the economic climate that surrounds us all and align its activities accordingly. A spokesperson from WORDtrans said, “What seems utterly bizarre to us is that while they have agreed to make the savings, there are no plans to cut jobs despite the reduction in workload. The translation industry by its nature is hugely labour-intensive and salaries form by far the biggest cost overhead. So without cutting staff numbers, it is difficult to see how savings are going to be made.” Perhaps in time, all will be clear.