30 OCTOBER 2002
By Matthew Vella
The enormous translation bill set to face the EU upon enlargement could turn out to be another costly payment for Maltas accession bid. A radical proposal tabled by the Danish presidency is now considering to have EU member states pay for interpreters if they want to use their own language.
With the number of official languages rising to 20 upon enlargement, Denmark is considering a Swedish proposal for a "request and pay" translation service, where member states would be charged to use their language.
Full interpreting facilities in all languages will still be available for the European Council, whose current interpreting budget is EUR50 million (Lm20 million). There are however around 4,000 working groups in the EU every year, and this means translation costs will become very high indeed.
Foreign Ministry sources said it was the EUs responsibility to translate official documents and to provide interpretation services into all the official languages of the Union. "Following provisional closure of the chapter on Institutions, it was agreed that Maltese would be an official EU language following Malta's accession. When it comes to interpreters, a relay system is very often used in Brussels in order to simplify matters, whereby a third language is used. Thus, Greek might be translated into English and then from English into Finnish."
International sources such as the Financial Times indicate Maltese officials could agree not to speak in Maltese and escape the proposed translation charge.
EU translators and interpreters are offered high remuneration and are also a unionised profession.
According to June 2000 figures, lower grade EU translators and interpreters earn an annual salary of EUR43,001 (Lm17,200) if single, and just below EUR60,000 (Lm24,000) if married. Head of translation and interpretation units earn just over EUR95,166 (Lm38,066) if single, and just over EUR110,000 (Lm44,000) if married.
Speaking to the Malta Financial and Business Times, MLP Culture and Education spokesperson Mr Evarist Bartolo said that whilst Maltese was an official EU language on paper, in reality Government had yet to put its money where its mouth is.