German as an EU language

German is one of the currently 23 EU languages accorded equal status as official and working languages under Council Regulation 1 of 1958. This is the basis of the so-called full language regime, under which all legal texts, official documents of the institutions of the Union and the Official Journal are translated into all the EU’s official and working languages. EU nationals are entitled, moreover, to address written communications to an EU institution or body in any of the EU’s 23 official languages and to receive a reply in the same language.

At meetings of EU negotiating bodies (e.g. all meetings of the European Council and the various configurations of the Council of Ministers) the full language regime applies, unless in certain areas – for reasons of efficiency or cost – it has been agreed or become standard practice to use only a limited number of working languages with or without the provision of interpretation/translation services. Hence German/English/French are used and interpretation services provided at meetings of COREPER, ECOFIN, the Economic Policy Committee and also accession negotiations. At working level and in the COREU communication network of the Common Foreign and Security Policy the current practice is to use English and French with no interpretation or English only.

Given the increased number of official EU languages, since 2004 new arrangements known as the request-and-pay system have been introduced in selected Council preparatory bodies. Under this system member states may choose whether or not they wish to have interpretation services provided in their own language in a particular preparatory body. Germany has opted to have full interpretation provided in all relevant bodies. While this system is partially paid for by the member states, it still costs considerably less than the alternative, a Community-funded system providing full interpretation in all official languages.

German has a special status, furthermore, as one of the three languages used in the proceedings of the European Commission and the Council. When the college of Commissioners meets, it negotiates on the basis of documents prepared in German, English and French and full interpretation in these languages is provided. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has pledged that the German language will also have a prominent role in the European External Action Service.

In this connection the German Government is working for German language skills to be recognized as a career-enhancing qualification for EU officials.

In order to strengthen German as a working and negotiating language, the Federal Foreign Office offers in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut a comprehensive, theme-based programme of language courses geared specifically to higher EU officials as well as higher officials in EU partner countries and other EU neighbouring countries.

Last updated 26.08.2010

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