Multilingualism at any cost?

, by Tero Luoma

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Multilingualism at any cost?

Multilingualism is one of the EU’s key values. At the moment there are 20 official languages [1] from English to Maltese. The Treaty guarantees every representative to speak the language of their choice.

The principle is that all the official meetings are interpreted from 20 languages into 20 languages.

In theory all languages are equal, but in practice some languages are more equal than the others.

When it comes to unofficial meetings the interpretation is usually limited to working languages or there is no interpretation at all. At those times the representative is on his or her own.

In the last plenary the European Parliament voted in favour of the report on interpretation expenditures.

The report was made by MEP Alexander STUBB (EPP-ED, FIN). The report shows that one interpretation day costs 1476 EUR in the European Parliament and 1046 EUR in the Commission. The difference is mainly due to the travel and accommodation costs of Strasbourg sessions.

One full-interpreted meeting costs 118 000 EUR per day. If we had just 3 languages, for example English, French and German, the cost would be 8900 EUR per day. The total cost of interpretation in the Parliament was 57 million euros in the year 2003. While divided by the amount of MEPs (732) this means that interpretation costs amount to roughly 78 000 EUR per MEP per year.

In total, the interpretation in all the EU institutions costs 160 million euros a year. All the linguistic services of the EU institutions, translation and interpretation combined represent merely 1% of the total EU budget. This is a cheap price of democracy and communication.

Language is not just about communication. It is an important part of the national culture and identity. The right to use one’s mother tongue is a core value.

The idea of a single language EU is impossible. Member States would never find a common working language. Everyone can accept one working language, English, except the French. Everyone can accept two working languages, English and French, except Germans and so on.

The domino effect continues and finally we have 20 languages and still more to come [2]. Language is not just about communication. It is an important part of the national culture and identity. The right to use one’s mother tongue is a core value.

MEPs are democratically elected representatives of the citizens. It would be against the rule of law and democracy to set any language skills demands to MEPs. You just cannot expect politicians to speak languages. In stead you can expect EU officials and civil servants to master at least one or two foreign languages.

Despite the protest of President Chirac, English is the official business language. You can’t make a career in business without language skills. A good command of English is the minimum. In Brussels and in international business, not a single company is represented by a non-English-speaker.


Languages should never be regarded as a cost. The multilingualism in the EU is highly valuable and it must be respected, at any cost. However we should highly appreciate language skills and support EU-citizens to study languages.

- Image :

’’Spanish’’ euro coin, 10 euro : from wikipédia.

More informations about these coins : wikipédia.



[1’’Irish’’ (i. e : irish ’’Gaelic’’) will become the 21st official language of the European Union from 1 January 2007 following an agreement within Coreper (Committee of Permanent Representatives of EU member states) on 13 June 2005.

[2When Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union as foreseen for 2007 the list will also include Bulgarian and Romanian.

Your comments

  • On 11 November 2006 at 23:44, by Brian Barker Replying to: Multilingualism at any cost?

    Your article attempts to justify the linguistic imperialism of English.

    Where is your linguistic morality?

    Without being evangelical, why do you take a side swipe against Esperanto, by implying that a “single language is impossible” ?

  • On 17 November 2006 at 22:08, by Margo Replying to: Multilingualism at any cost?

    I think Europeans are to lazy to lern a whole new language.

  • On 4 January 2007 at 10:41, by Roland Replying to: Multilingualism at any cost?

    Mais si ils aprennent une langue, bon! ça leur permet de communiquer avec un (parfois plusieurs si c’est l’allemand!) pays, ça n’est pas inutile, mais on revient au même problème il faut une langue qui soit comprise partout. Au Moyen-Age ça existait, c’était le latin.

    Certains veulent faire revivre le latin comme interlangue pour l’Europe. C’est pas bête! Ce serait neutre, et un bon symbole historique de l’identité européenne. Mais c’est quand même une langue fort difficile. Pour des raisons pratiques l’Espéranto serait mieux.

  • On 7 October 2011 at 13:24, by Guillermo Replying to: Multilingualism at any cost?

    No estamos dispuestos a tolerar sin protestar el tener que gastar millones de euros para aprender idiomas irregulares, imposibles de aprender sin pagar por cada hijo más de 10.000 euros, además gran parte del dinero va de los países más pobres, desde España a Grecia, hacia los más ricos: Reino Unido, USA, Francia, Alemania.

    No a las barreras artificiales para los mejores puestos de trabajo.

    No a las imposiciones injustas, existiendo mejores opciones como las lenguas planificadas: el esperanto como clara opción.

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