Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Fast-talking MEPs 'drive interpreters crazy'

  • 'Speak slowly, speak in your mother tongue', Welle said. (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament should speak in their own language and take care not to speak too quickly, to prevent interpreters from going “crazy”, the parliament's secretary-general has said.

“It is important that people do not speak too fast,” Klaus Welle said at a meeting of the parliament's budgetary control committee on Thursday (4 February).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The European Parliament has around 330 interpreters on staff. (Photo: European Parliament)

He pointed out that some speakers in plenary and committee sessions churn out up to 180 words per minute.

Welle met the interpreters last month to discuss their grievances, and made the request on their behalf.

“Speak slowly, speak in your mother tongue. Those are the main elements which lead to a deterioration in quality,” he noted. “It drives them crazy.”

Recruitment 'not a problem'

It is much easier for interpreters to translate if the speaker uses his or her mother tongue.

Welle made his request in his native tongue, German, not long after the chair of the meeting had to ask one of the participants to speak slower so that the interpreters could keep up with him.

That same morning in the parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg at least two MEPs and one commissioner did not stick to the advice and spoke English instead of Dutch, Estonian and Romanian, respectively.

Some MEPs use English because they find it easier to express themselves in a language that can be directly understood by many of their peers, rather than rely on a translation.

The European Parliament has roughly 330 interpreters on staff as well as a pool of freelancers to deploy.

MEPs have the right to speak in their own language, and the house has 24 official languages.

But not all languages are always available. The budgetary control committee meeting for example was translated into 16 languages. One Slovenian MEP complained that meetings of the transport committee are not translated in her language.

This is not due to a lack of available staff, said Welle.

“We don't have any problem with recruiting interpreters,” he noted, but added that there was a “major problem” with the facilities and the number of interpreter booths.

"We don't have a sufficient number of meeting rooms that correspond to the language profiles of the committees," he said.

He accepted that the issue could work to the disadvantage of lesser-spoken languages, which he promised to protect.

Unequal burden

He also pointed out that Turkish translators would soon be needed because of a possible peace deal in Cyprus. The agreement would reunite the Greek and Turkish speaking parts of the island, making Turkish another official language.

He noted that the interpretation service needed to be as efficient as possible “otherwise we won't be able to maintain the service”.

One issue is that the workload is not evenly distributed among interpreters, he said.

“Some people are overburdened and others are not doing enough,” noted Welle, saying that the number of hours in the interpretation booth can vary between six and 16 hours.

He also said there were some challenges in creating the right incentives for interpreters to learn additional languages.

“Someone who adds languages, finds himself working longer. Someone who doesn't make that effort is less usable and will work only six to eight hours.”

Feature

British EU officials in limbo if UK leaves

Directors likely to get golden handshakes. Managers and MEPs to be lame ducks. Pensions safe. But if UK exit talks turned ugly, British officials could suffer.

Analysis

First 100 days: Digital and Green Deal policies hit by crises

The first 100 days of Ursula von der Leyen's commission were supposed to be about the digital and environmental transitions. However, that agenda has been hit by first the coronavirus, and now the Greek border situation.

Feature

How corporate lobbyists steer EU law-making

Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

Investigation

G4S: the EU's preferred security contractor

The British multinational security company G4S lost its contract with the European Parliament in 2011 in a backlash from MEPs over alleged abuses in Israel. Today, they guard the parliament's main entrance and have become the EU's top security provider.

Exclusive

EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in

EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn owns 2,200 shares in Austria's largest electricity provider. Those shares have tripled in value since he first declared them in 2014. In January, the firm met his head of cabinet to discuss climate policy.

EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal

Small steps are being made to reveal who is lobbying who within the EU. But the approach is basically haphazard and piecemeal - meaning the public remains largely in the dark and unable to truly scrutinise the influencers.

News in Brief

  1. UK health minister tests positive for coronavirus
  2. Orban: coronavirus exposes EU 'weaknesses'
  3. Court orders Netherlands to pay colonial victims
  4. Belgian cat 'infected by coronavirus'
  5. UK PM Johnson tests positive for coronavirus
  6. EU agrees Libya naval mission after Greek solution
  7. US to upgrade its nuclear bombs in Europe
  8. US surpasses China and Italy with 82,404 corona cases

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU doctors: bring refugees on Greek islands to safety
  2. Russia's top coronavirus 'fake news' stories
  3. WHO warning on lockdown mental health
  4. Virus: Frontex tells officers to keep guarding Greek borders
  5. EU heads struggle to find joint virus response
  6. Poland's sham presidential election in a pandemic
  7. Von der Leyen warns 'end selfishness' in virus crisis
  8. Chinese ambassador to EU: put trust before politics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us