Balancing Multilingualism in Europe

I had written about the importance of understanding legal aspects of central banking (apart from economics). BoJ chief also gave a very interesting speech on importance of law in central banking. 

ECB has a legal working paper series and I am trying to catch up with a few papers here. Very interesting and different stuff. 

Like I have always wondered and thought how does ECB manage the multilingual aspects. There are 16 EMU countries each having a different language and each being very particular about the usage of its language. What is also interesting is the choice of language matters greatly as some countries might not understand the context. This was best highlighted by this paper in which authors do a interview of economists on ECB’s track record. Otmar Issing, the first chief econ of ECB says:


Otmar Issing: “Translation was, of course, linguistically always very good, but the same words and phrases may seem different against the background of different historical experiences. For example, one colleague once said to me, ‘Otmar, we have a paragraph containing three times a reference to price stability. I think this is too much for this argument. In my country, if you say three times why you seek price stability, it weakens your argument.’ And my argument was, if in Germany it’s only two times, they say, ‘Oh, is the ECB less stability oriented than the Bundesbank?’

There is a paper by Phoebus Athanassiou which looks at the multilingual aspects of European Union.

On 1 May 2004, 10 more countries acceded to the European Union (EU), bringing the total number of Member States to 25, increasing the EU’s population to over 450 million and, last but not least, nearly doubling the number of the official languages of the EU. The recent enlargement, a cornerstone in the continuing process of European integration, poses unprecedented challenges, also because of its linguistic implications for the EU and for the language regime applicable to the Community Institutions. In the case of the ECB, this challenge is all the more evident due to the very short deadlines within which some of its operational decisions need to be taken and implemented and the practical implications that their adoption in all the official languages of the EU would entail.

This paper is divided in two Parts.  Part I provides an overview of the rationale and of the legal basis underlying the EU’s current language policy, outlining the language regime applicable to the Community Institutions and bodies and discusses exceptions and limitations to multilingualism associated with the particular situation of Member States with more than one official language or stemming from some recent case-law on the Institutions’ language regime.  

Part II examines the issue of the name of the single currency and some of the reasons underlying the ECB’s stance on proposed national variations in its spelling.

It has some interesting case studies of Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland, Turkey, Cyprus etc where either national laws were made to accept second language as a working language (mostly English) or European Community laws were changed to accept a national language (like Irish). Super stuff. 

It discusses language regime separately of  

  • European Parliament
  • European Commission
  • European Union
  • European Court of Justice
  • Court of Auditors
  • community agencies and bodie
  • ECB

In ECB the multilingual issue is more interesting.  

It should first of all be noted, as stated before, that the Regulation formally applies to the Community Institutions only. While the ECJ has relatively recently ruled that ‘the ECB, pursuant to the Treaty, falls squarely within the Community framework’ has since been ‘affirmed’ by Chapter II of Title IV of Part I of the European Constitution entitled ‘The other Union Institutions and advisory bodies’ is not, , an assessment that, it remains the case that the ECBstricto sensu, a Community Institution

A fundamental reason why the ECB’s emphasis on the application of the principles of the Regulation differs from that of the Community Institutions is because of the dichotomy of its structure as the ECB is, on the one hand, a specialized Community law organization and, on the other hand, the decision-making centre of the European System of Central Banks (‘ESCB’) and the ‘Eurosystem.’

So, ECB has broadly 2 kinds of communications. One internal communication – laws, regulations which need to be translated into all official languages. Two, external communication for financial markets which is mostly in English and translated into official languages of special cases (like policy rate changes).

Very insightful stuff on a very important issue in Europe. Though, the paper  could have been written more simply. It should also have offered more case studies on language issues in Europe and how they resolved it.

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