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DG Interpretation

What we do

What does DG Interpretation do?

The Directorate General for Interpretation (DG Interpretation – also known as SCIC) is the European Commission’s interpreting service and conference organiser. It reports to  Commissioner Günther H. Oettingerexternal link.

As part of the Commission's commitment to transparencyexternal link, Directors-General publish information on meetings held with organisations or self-employed individuals.

The European Union, in its essence, can be seen as one long, on-going, intense political and technical conference. For 50 years, the Member States have been negotiating day in and day out on the basis of proposals from the Commission. The Regulations and Directives that make up EU legislation begin around the conference table. DG Interpretation provides interpreters for some 11.000 meetings every year and is the largest interpreting service in the world.

DG Interpretation manages the allocation of Commission meeting rooms and provides support for the smooth running of meetings in many languages that are held there. It also organises conferences for Directorates-General and departments of the Commission, typically in the range of over 40 main events per year. Its mission is therefore to make possible multilingual communication at the core of Community decision-making by:

  • providing quality interpretation services;
  • providing an effective service of conference organisation including technical support and design management of modern conference facilities;
  • helping to put the Commission's new multilingualism strategy into practice.

Why are all those languages important?

Giving everyone at the table a voice in their own languageexternal link is a fundamental requirement of the democratic legitimacy of the European Union. In many cases, the legal acts resulting from discussions will have an immediate and direct effect on people’s lives. There should be no obstacle to understanding and putting views in meetings. The citizens of Europe should not have to be represented in Brussels by their best linguists: they can send their best experts. DG Interpretation will make sure they understand each other.

Who does DG Interpretation work for?

DG Interpretation provides quality interpretation in meetings arranged by the Commissionexternal link and the other Institutions it serves, and provides a conference organising capacity to Commission services. The European Councilexternal link, The Council of the Unionexternal link, The Committee of the Regionsexternal link, The European Economic and Social Committeeexternal link, The European Investment Bank,external link and the agencies and offices in the Member Statesexternal link all get their interpreters from DG Interpretation. At present, the Council accounts for around 46% of the interpreting services provided, followed by the Commission with around 40%. The remaining 14% are spread over the two Committees, the European Investment Bank and various agencies and other bodies.The European Parliamentexternal link and the European Court of Justiceexternal link have separate interpreting services with which DG Interpretation collaborates closely.

How much does it all cost?

DG Interpretation and the separate interpreting services of the European Parliament and of the Court of Justice handle the spoken word in meetings, mainly in simultaneous interpretation, at a total cost of less than half a euro a year per European citizen. DG Interpretation on its own costs the taxpayer 0.25 €/citizen/year.

How is interpreting organised?

DG Interpretation provides interpreters for about 50 – 60 meetings per day in Brussels and elsewhere. The language arrangements for these meetings vary considerably – from consecutive interpreting between two languages, for which one interpreter is required, to simultaneous interpreting into and out of 24 or more languages (total symmetry), which requires at least 72 interpreters.

Different institutions have widely different needs. As a rule of thumb, elected representatives (i.e., ministers in formal meetings, plenary meetings of the Committee of the Regions or of the Economic and Social Committee) get full, symmetric language coverage, while officials and experts get a whole range of different arrangements, depending on their real needs and the resources available.

Catering for such language arrangements requires the use of all the various simultaneous interpreting techniques we regularly apply: direct interpreting, relay (interpreting via a bridging language: language A is first put into language B, then into C by interpreters working from B), two-way interpreting or retour (the same interpreter who works from A into B also works from B into A), and asymmetric language coverage (participants can speak a large number of languages but interpretation is provided only into a few).

DG Interpretation in Key Figures (2016)

  • 529 staff interpreters
  • 300 - 400 freelance interpreters per day
  • > 3000 accredited freelance interpreters
  • 50 - 60 meetings per day
  • 11,200 meeting days
  • ±97,400 interpreter days
  • 71 major Commission conferences organised
  • Total operating: € 119,500,000
  • Cost: 0.24 €/European citizen

Also see our brochure: Interpretation in figures / 2016 external link