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German as an EU language

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There are more native speakers of German in the EU than there are of any other language. As a foreign language, it is roughly equal with French as the second most popular language to learn after English.

European German Network
European German Network

German as an EU language

German is one of the 24 languages accorded equal status as official and working languages in the EU. Council Regulation 1 of 1958 is the basis of the full language regime, under which all legal texts and the Official Journal are translated into all the EU’s official and working languages.

EU nationals are entitled to address written communications to an EU institution or body in any of the EU’s 24 official languages and to receive a reply in the same language.

The full language regime also applies at important EU meetings, including all meetings of the European Council and formal Council meetings at ministerial level.

Simpler practices have become entrenched in various other EU configurations. For example, interpretation between German, English and French is provided for meetings of COREPER, the important committee of permanent representatives of the EU member states. English and French are spoken at meetings held under the common foreign and security policy banner – without interpretation.

Effective interpretation services

Since the number of official EU languages increased sharply in 2004, a request-and-pay system has been operated in most Council preparatory bodies. Under this system, member states may ask for interpretation services to be provided for their own official language. Germany opts for this wherever possible. This system costs considerably less than the alternative, a Community-funded system providing full interpretation, not least because it is partially paid for by the member states.

German has a special status as one of the three languages used in the proceedings of the European Commission: the college of Commissioners works in German, English and French on the basis of documents which must be submitted in these three languages.

In order to strengthen German as a working and negotiating language in the EU, 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 countries neighbouring the EU.

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