Monday, September 20, 2004

Creaking at the seams

Something we meant to post yesterday was a commentary on the Observer story "Europe finds itself lost for words", recounting how, last week in Strasbourg, "politicians attending debates… found long silences in their headsets".

Anyhow, the story cannot go without comment, and we record here that the parliamentary officials have failed to recruit enough interpreters to enable the enlarged EU to understand itself.

"Worse", according to the Guardian, "it seems there simply may not be enough qualified linguists… to fill the translators' booths in Strasbourg and Brussels." We hear that Patrick Twidle, responsible for recruiting interpreters at the parliament, said that despite a massive recruitment campaign and monthly salaries starting at £2,500 he had failed to fill 400 new positions.

That is quite an interesting, if damning, observation, as I remember attending several meetings last year, held by the translation services, where functionnaires of various descriptions and seniority assured us that they would meet the challenge of enlargement but – like so much else in the EU – they have failed.

One can nevertheless sympathise with the officials, as the scale of the problem is immense. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out last April, the number of pages to be translated is to soar from 1.4 million to 2.4 million pages a year, as the number of official languages increases from 11 to 20, with a growing army of 1,200 translators and 700 interpreters, at a cost of £700 million a year.

By May, the stresses were already apparent, when Maltese was temporarily dropped from the official list (see link) and now, with fewer than 200 new interpreters having joined the staff, the system is creaking at the seams.

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