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A vital function for a bargain price

Committed to linguistic diversity, the EU needs interpreters and translators. Interpreters are in the front line. It is they who enable ministers, diplomats and experts from member states to negotiate face-to-face and take the decisions that enable the EU to function. Translators who work on written texts have a less visible but no less vital task. Ian is the head of the Communications's team in the Commission's interpretation department.


‘Interpretation and translation covering all 23 official languages costs each EU citizen the equivalent of €2 a year. It is money well spent’, says Ian Andersen. ‘One way of looking at the European Union is as a non-stop negotiation that started nearly 50 years ago. The technical or political points made by each participant needs to be understood by all the others. Experts on, say, product safety or fishing quotas cannot be expected to be linguists as well.’

The Commission has a staff of 550 interpreters and regularly uses the services of another 2 800 freelancers. On any day, between 300 and 400 are working in Brussels or elsewhere.

Ian himself is polyglot and uses four languages in his job as head of the unit responsible for communication and information: French, English and Italian as well as his native Danish.  When not working, he relaxes on 15-20 kilometre hikes most Sundays, or listens to music or reads.

‘Sometimes people ask why we need so many interpreters when most people speak and understand English. The fact is that half the people in the EU do not speak English. It remains a multilingual Union.

‘We use short cuts to keep costs down. For instance, for less widely known languages like Danish, we sometimes ask interpreters to work both ways – into and out of their main language. But there are also 140 non-Danish interpreters who interpret directly from Danish into other EU languages.’

BORN:  1956 in Copenhagen, Denmark
POSITION:  Head of unit in interpretation


Commission civil service