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Gezocht: Engelse vertalers (en)

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 19 februari 2009.

The European Commission faces a shortage of translators for a number of language combinations. The situation is particularly worrying in the English language department because many officials who joined the Commission in the Seventies following the accession of the United Kingdom and Ireland are now approaching retirement age. The search for future recruits has revealed a lack of awareness of the job opportunities in the European Institutions. The Commission has therefore decided to launch a campaign centred on the career opportunities it has to offer to skilled translators.

A large number of English-language translators were recruited when the UK and Ireland joined the European Economic Community. Three decades later, the department that ensures translation into English is facing a major generational change: it is expected to lose at least 20 % of its staff by 2015.

This may not sound too alarming in an environment where documents are increasingly drafted in that language.–However, with the addition of nine official languages following the 2004 enlargement and another three in 2007, the volume of written material which the Commission receives from the Member States in all official languages has also grown exponentially.

Why is translation into English in such high demand?

Under Regulation No 1 of 1958, which enshrines the multilingual character of the EU, national authorities and citizens have the right to submit documents, questions and complaints in any of the 23 official languages to the EU institutions. In order to fulfil its core tasks – i.e. initiating new EU legislation, monitoring the correct application of existing legislation and communicating with all stakeholders – the Commission must analyse and process vast volumes of written communication coming from the Member States.

Since no one can be expected to master so many languages, Commission officials sometimes have to resort to a "bridge-language" to perform their tasks. As the foreign language most widely spoken by the new generation of officials and the first foreign language taught in most schools across the EU, English has slowly grown into that role. As a result, demand for translation into English has increased by 45% over the last five years.


Table: Pages translated into English by source language (2008)

Source language

Volume (pages)

% / total



















Other languages






What is at stake?

Faced with a constantly increasing workload, with the need to cover a wide range of source languages and with limited and ageing human resources, the English language department depends very much on the outcome of selection procedures for the recruitment of new officials to satisfy its current and future needs. However, the results of the last two inter-institutional competitions for English-language translators, organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) in 2005 and 2007, were not satisfactory: the target figures for successful candidates – i.e. 40 (2005) and 70 (2007) names on the reserve lists – were not reached; instead, only 16 and 24 successful candidates respectively were available for recruitment to the four EU Institutions involved.

An additional problem is language coverage: most candidates on the short reserve lists offer translation skills in a limited range of languages (mainly French, German, Spanish and Italian); however, skills in lesser-known languages such as Latvian, Lithuanian or Estonian are also needed.

At the same time, the number of interested and successful candidates for external contracts (freelance translation) whom DG Translation can sign up for translation into English has also decreased.

What can be done?

The Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission, has therefore decided to launch a campaign to attract qualified professionals to its translation operation. With this in mind, the English language department has already established contact with a number of educational institutions, government departments and language organisations such as the National Centre for Languages (CILT). It will also seek to enhance its presence at careers events and job fairs, in particular across the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The Directorate-General for Translation and its English language department

DG Translation is the largest service of the European Commission. With a total staff of approximately 2,500, including translators and non-translating staff, it caters for the Commission’s needs for translation and linguistic advice in respect of all types of written communication. The annual cost of translation in the Commission is estimated to be some EUR 300 million a year – or 60 cents per citizen.

For organisational purposes, DG Translation is divided along language lines. Geographically, it is almost equally divided between Brussels and Luxembourg.

The English language department currently employs 111 translators. Other services within DG Translation employ English-language linguists for editing documents and translating web pages.

In 2008, the output of DG Translation was 1.8 million translated pages. 72 % were translated from English, 12 % from French, 3 % from German and 13 % from other languages. The English language department accounted for 10.5 % of total output.

Around 26 % of the Commission’s translation is contracted out to freelance translators. The English language department outsourced 55 % of its work in 2008, thus accounting for 22 % of DG Translation's outsourced work.

Since 2004, the Commission has faced a chronic shortage of translators for some of the newly-added languages. Recruiting translators for Slovenian and Maltese has proved particularly difficult.

Given the insufficient number of successful candidates in the first competitions in 2004, the Commission had to select temporary staff to meet the translation demand. Both departments still have a high percentage of temporary staff: two thirds for the Slovenian department and 58% for the Maltese department, who can rely on only 48 translators against the estimated need of 57.

The high percentage of retirements foreseen in some language departments, such as those translating into Danish and Italian, is also causing some concern. While for the Italian language department a consistent pool of young translators is available and will allow for a swift succession planning, in the case of the Danes there are very few available candidates left on the existing lists. A competition to get new blood to replace the retiring staff is therefore foreseen later this year.

The Commission is confident that the new competitions will allow all departments to be properly staffed with the highest possible share of permanent staff.

For more information on DG Translation: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/

See also the Languages portal: http://europa.eu/languages/en/home


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