The European Parliament has agreed to cut part of its translation service, in a bid to shave its budget by some €8.6 million per year.
Lawmakers approved on Tuesday (21 November) a report by Stanimir Ilchev, a Bulgarian Liberal MEP, changing the procedural rules for the recording of plenary debates.
As of the next plenary, on 10 December, the Parliament will no longer be required to translate the session into all 23 official languages of the European Union, a process which has proved costly and can take up to four months.
The EU legislative will only record proceedings in their original language, while still being required to translate them following a request by a member state.
Ilchev rejected proposals to only translate the sessions into English, which he said could “appear linguistically unjust”.
But he said the move would not harm multilingualism, which is enshrined in the EU treaties. “Of course this principle is not in question and everyone can listen to our debates in plenary in their own language (through interpretation),” Ilchev said.
Further, the amended rules of procedure require the Parliament to broadcast all proceedings in real time on its website in all the active interpretation languages.
A Parliament source told EURACTIV that scaling down the plenary translation service had been on the minds of both the administration and MEPs for a number of years, but that only now was the video service being used enough to justify the change.
But 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 the EU institutions.
Ilchev told EURACTIV that to his knowledge no jobs would be cut despite the reduction in workload, but did not mention whether fewer freelancers would be taken on.
"Moreover", he said, "it is clear that in a broader aspect we all have to be adequate to the current situation in EU and align our activities to the general appeal for budgetary cuts and austerity measures."
"[European Parliament] cannot be an exception to this common policy."
While money spent on translation services is often described as the ‘cost of democracy’, British Conservative MEP Geoffry Van Orden does not believe the EU institutions need to translate documents into every language to preserve their principles.
Van Orden, who has long campaigned to reduce the translation budget, said following his report on cutting bureaucratic costs last year: "NATO has 28 member countries and just two working languages, 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."
Following the 2004 enlargement, the European Parliament was given a derogation to continue translating proceedings into the 11 “old” languages due to an insufficient capacity for translation into the new languages.
This expired in September 2007 and it was then necessary to revert the language regime to previous rule: “All documents of Parliament shall be drawn up in the official languages”.
The EU institutions spend around €1 billion on translation and interpreting every year, representing about 1% of the EU budget or €2.50 per citizen.
72% of EU documents are originally drafted in English, 12% in French and just 3% in German, while 88% of the users of the Commission's Europa website speak English, according to figures from the EU executive.