EU Commission accused of 'language discrimination'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu May 29 15:51:06 UTC 2008

Commission accused of 'language discrimination'
Published: Wednesday 28 May 2008

The European Ombudsman says a refusal by the EU executive to conduct
its external assistance work in all 23 official EU languages
constitutes maladministration. But the Commission argues that doing so
would simply not be feasible. European Ombudsman P. Nikiforos
Diamandouros yesterday criticised the Commission's failure "to accept
applications for an external assistance project in [all] EU
languages". What's more, its "refusal to comply with this legal
obligation constitutes maladministration," he stated.

The case highlights the practical difficulties and cost constraints
experienced by the EU institutions in implementing their ambitious
language policies. The issue concerns the EU executive's call for
proposals for a rehabilitation project for torture victims under its
'European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights', for which it
required that applications be submitted in English, French or Spanish.
Back in 2004 a German NGO providing psychological and social support
to refugee victims of torture and their families decided to complain
the Ombudsman after being asked by the Commission to provide
translations of documents related to its tender application, arguing
that doing so would be "very costly and time-consuming".

The NGO argued that the EU executive was legally obliged to accept the
documents in German as it is an official EU language, complaining of
"language discrimination".  But the Commission countered that using
all EU languages in external assistance projects with third countries
is not practical due to cost and time constraints and thus it had the
right to adopt a "pragmatic approach with a restricted use of
languages".  Despite conceding that cost considerations are
"important", the Ombudsman said they are not sufficient "to entitle
the Commission to disregard its legal obligation to accept all
official languages" and asked the EU executive to "avoid this kind of
discrimination in the future".

The Commission is set to publish its new strategy on multilingualism
in September 2008 (see EurActiv 19/02/08), while the EU institutions
are currently reviewing their translation and interpreting regimes as
part of a wider debate over the scope and cost of multilingualism
policy - currently worth €1.1bn or 1% of the EU budget.

See also:
Interview: Multilingualism 'weakening in the EU institutions'
Mixed message on transparency after Parliament votes
Teachers back 'personal adoptive' language proposal
Petition calls for German language boost

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