Multilingualism 'cost of democracy' in EU

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Nov 14 15:56:23 UTC 2008

Interview: Multilingualism 'cost of democracy' in EU

Published: Thursday 13 November 2008

Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban has spoken to EurActiv
Slovakia of his conviction that the dossier will continue to be
afforded "its own place" in the EU policy framework after the expiry
of the European Commission's current mandate in autumn 2009.

The EU institutions' translation and interpreting services absorb
€1.1bn or 1% of the EU budget per year. Asked why no further funding
had been made available to support the new multilingualism strategy
unveiled by the Commission in September (EurActiv 19/10/08), Orban
stressed the need to be "very realistic", taking "political aspects of
EU financial procedures" into consideration. No additional monies
would be available before 2013 because the bloc's resources have
already been allocated under the current funding period, he explained.
But "we are only at the beginning," he said, expressing his hope that
"more precise financial perspectives" would be decided upon at a later

In any case, Commissioner Orban insisted that "no additional money
does not mean that multilingualism [is] some kind of side-policy
outside the mainstream." Language issues are simultaneously linked to
many other policies, he said, including employment, workers' mobility,
social cohesion and communication with citizens among others.
Moreover, he does not believe that the cost of EU multilingualism
policy is excessive. "If we divide [the €1.1bn] by population, we see
that it is about €2.5 per citizen per year. I really don't think [this
is] big money, not at all."

The commissioner justified the outlay by pointing out that almost half
of the EU population speaks only their mother tongue. "It's the cost
of democracy," he said. "How can we ensure that citizens understand
the meaning of laws, their rights and their obligations? Simply: by
translating legislation into their mother tongues."  The EU
executive's new strategy did not seek to address the institutional
side of language policy, rather focusing on boosting language
learning. Asked whether the multilingual nature of the EU institutions
instead serves to boost the use of English at the expense of other
languages, Orban replied: "Everyone notes that English is present more
and more in the EU, but at the same time, [it] is less and less
sufficient," for both economic and cultural reasons.

Orban claimed it was "too early to discuss the final results" of his
work. More initiatives should follow before the end of the current
executive's mandate in autumn 2009, he explained, including a
high-level conference on cultural translation. Finally, asked whether
he expected multilingualism would remain a separate portfolio under
the new Commission, Orban expressed his conviction that the EU would
continue to afford language policy "its own place", "whether separate
or in combination with other polices".

But "nobody knows how the next Commission president will distribute
portfolios," he conceded, while "issues like the sustainability of the
current linguistic regime" would have to be taken into consideration.

To read the interview in full, please click here:
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