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The multilingual character of the European Union and its institutions is guaranteed by Council Regulation 1/58, which in its Article 1 sets out that the official languages of the EU are those of the Member States. Originally, when the EU was still the European Economic Community, only 4 languages were mentioned, but with each round of enlargement further languages were added:

"The official languages and the working languages of the institutions of the Union shall be Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovene, Slovak, Spanish and Swedish."

However, more widely, respect for linguistic diversity is a fundamental value of the EU, as are respect for the person and openness towards other cultures. This is incorporated into the preamble to the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which refers to "drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe [...] confirming [the] attachment to the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights". In Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union great importance is given to respect for human rights and non-discrimination, while Article 3 states that the EU "shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity".

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, adopted in 2000 and made legally binding by the Treaty of Lisbon, prohibits discrimination on grounds of language (Article 21) and places an obligation on the Union to respect linguistic diversity (Article 22).

In the UN there are 6 working languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The UN's multilingualism policy

The IAMDLAP* organisations have also adopted a text on multilingualism, referred to as the Vienna statement

In terms of copyright and the protection of 'intellectual property' the performance of conference interpreters, once recorded and preserved, is protected under international law. The Berne Convention provides protection for the interests of authors; translations are protected as original works and translators are protected as authors. When fixed in material form, of any nature whatsoever the performance of the conference interpreter becomes a translation within the meaning of the Berne Convention and the exclusive rights foreseen in the Convention apply to the author. (source: AIIC)

* IAMLADP (International Annual Meeting on Language Arrangements, Documentation and Publications) is an international forum and network of managers of international organisations employing conference and language service providers, convened under the aegis of the UN, but including the European institutions.

Professional Standards and Ethics

International Organisations, including the EU institutions, have stringent accreditation procedures for both staff and freelance interpreters to ensure that the quality of the interpretation is guaranteed.

Recruitment to the EU

Recruitment to the UN 

DG Interpretation has an agreement ('The Agreement')  with its permanent and temporary staff interpreters which sets out the rules on working conditions.

It also has a separate agreement ('La Convention') with its freelance interpreters.

Professional standards and ethics covers many different aspects, here are a few mentioned in an excerpt from DG Interpretation's document on ethics:

1) teamwork: the work of an interpreter is individual, but it can be of a high quality only if all the members of a team perform well and there is an organised team effort. This refers both to the small team sharing a booth and to the larger team working together in a meeting. We should always treat our colleagues with respect and consideration, and the same goes for our superiors and our customers. Respect means respect not just for the person but also for his time and space.

2) offering help: helping colleagues is also extremely important and is an art form in itself, as we need to know exactly when and how we should offer to help. We should not force our help on colleagues or feel offended if they turn help down. Just knowing that help is available if needed, may be all the help required. Likewise, it is wise to let colleagues know what kind of help we should like to receive, particularly if we feel that we are not being properly helped.

3) relay: respect for colleagues in other booths should translate into the proper use of the relay button, or the B channel, i.e. making sure we release the relay button after doing a retour in order to free the channel for the A language booth, or not "stealing" the channel from a booth trying to provide a retour.

4) meeting preparation: one of our most important duties as interpreters is to prepare thoroughly and systematically for all the meetings we are assigned to. The more we know about the subject matter, background and terminology of a meeting, the better we will perform in the booth. Thorough preparation takes time and effort, but it is absolutely essential if we are to achieve our main objective: providing quality interpretation.

As meetings are becoming increasingly specialised and technically complex, meeting preparation can sometimes be a challenging task in itself, but it will certainly be worth it and contribute to maintaining our reputation for quality.

5) confidentiality of documents: the documents distributed electronically before the meeting, as well as printed documents made available in the booths, must be duly protected even if a particular document has already been published under other circumstances. Interpreters must avoid leaving copies outside the booth or transmitting electronic versions outside EU protected networks. They must avoid copying or distributing the documents unnecessarily and apply the “need to know” principle.

Video on professional behaviour in the booth

The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) is considered a guarantor of quality and standards – including working conditions. Membership of AIIC is through peer review and a system of sponsorship. Members of AIIC make a commitment to respect their strict codes of both professional standards and ethics.

ISO standards on interpreting

DG Interpretation has been involved in all of the interpretation-related standards (apart from the one on community interpreting (13611) which was voted before it became involved in the ISO). We attend the ISO meetings with a liaison status (as experts without the right to vote as only the countries' national committees can vote) but we can talk at the meetings and influence them.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is currently discussing a specific standard on conference interpreting, discussions in which DG Interpretation is also participating.

In general terms there is an ISO standard on interpreting services; ISO 188841: Interpreting services-General requirements and recommendations.

DG Interpretation always respects ISO standards, even though the European institutions are not subjected to certification.

Technical Standards

DG Interpretation also helps develop and adheres to state-of-the-art technical standards (including ISO standards)