Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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.

Poland's ex-PM loses EU parliament chair again

Poland's former prime minister, Beata Szydlo, has cried foul after failing to get an EP committee chair a second time, in a fiasco which could spell trouble for the European Commission presidency vote on Tuesday.

Anti-separatist Spanish MEPs dominate liberty committee

The European Parliament's powerful civil liberties committee (Libe) has elected anti-separatist Spanish MEPs for its chair and vice-chair positions. The issue risks complicating efforts by pro-Catalan factions to have the debate on independence raised to the EU level.

Orban ally's bid to chair EP committee in trouble

Former communication chief of the Hungary's Fidesz party, Balazs Hidvegi, wants a senior spot on the European Parliament committee working on migration and law. His nomination was delayed following a surprise decision by the centre-right EPP group.

Deal on EP vice-presidents divides new liberal group

A majority of the new parliament's 14 vice-presidents are from the centre-right EPP or the centre-left S&D. They also control the Bureau, which decides on crucial internal issues like expenses transparency.

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

News in Brief

  1. EU states threaten Turkey with 'targeted' blacklists
  2. Iran one year away from nuclear weapon, UK warns EU
  3. US trade war slows China's economy
  4. UK, France, Germany call for dialogue with Iran
  5. EU satellite system temporarily offline
  6. New flaw detected in Brexit app for EU citizens
  7. Italian coalition clashes over Russian financing
  8. Germany wants 'coalition of willing' to distribute migrants

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us