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20th Jan 2020

EU court strikes down Brussels' language regime

  • Commission HQ: Tower of Babel? (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission lawyers are wondering how to handle a Court ruling which could change the way it hires staff and prompt complaints from people who failed to get jobs.

The EU Court in Luxembourg, on Thursday (24 September), said Epso, the Commission’s recruitment office, is breaking its own rules by forcing applicants to use English, French, or German.

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  • The EU Court said job applicants should be free to use any of the 23 EU official langauges in their correspondence with Epso and any of the 23 tongues as their “second language” in Epso exam papers. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

It said the practice constitutes “discrimination” because it “favours certain potential candidates, namely those who have a satisfactory knowledge of at least one of the designated languages”.

It also said job applicants should be free to use any of the 23 EU official languages in their correspondence with Epso and any of the 23 tongues as their “second language” in Epso exam papers.

A Commission spokeswoman told EUobserver on Friday that lawyers are studying the verdict.

She also noted there’s an option to appeal the judgement.

The case was brought by Italy and Spain, focusing on three Epso job competitions in 2012 and 2013, on auditors, science consultants, and security experts.

The Court annulled the outcome of the job competitions.

It also lambasted the Commission’s arguments.

It said that favouring English, French, and German “does not … ensure clarity and understanding of communications”.

It added: “the claim that English, French, or German remain the most widely used languages, taking account in particular of the longstanding practice in the EU with regard to internal communications, is a vague statement which is not supported by any specific evidence”.

A Court contact said if the Commission doesn’t appeal, Epso will have to change the way it works.

“If the Court has annulled a competition for a given reason and the same reason could apply to other competitions in future, then Epso might want to consider its position”.

The source added the ruling might also prompt candidates who failed past intakes on language grounds to seek redress at the European Civil Service Tribunal, also in Luxembourg.

If the Commission does appeal, the case could take more than a year to settle.

In the meantime, the uncertainty is likely to prompt debate inside the EU institutions.

A Commission source said that, in practice, the institutions use English as their common language.

“This whole discussion on protecting the dignity of the French language, for instance, is silly”, he said.

“The main thing is that we can understand each other and do our work”.

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