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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
EU translation plan provokes protest
Neil Kinnock, European Commissioner
Kinnock's translation plans have come under fire
European Commissioner Neil Kinnock has been accused of trying to increase the dominance of the English language in the running of the European Union.

The French and German foreign ministers have formally protested to European Commission president Romano Prodi about Mr Kinnock's proposals for cutting down the commission's translation budget.

It's a perfidious British plot in order to transform the EU into a sort of English speaking area.

Marc Roche
Le Monde newspaper
They argue the plan, which would restrict some documents to the language in which they were written originally - would favour English.

Mr Prodi has responded to the French and German protests by maintaining he is fully committed to multi-lingualism and arguing he is only trying to reform the commission's internal workings.

Streamline plan

The proposal would mean cutting the number of translations made of working documents being discussed inside the EC.

The plan, which will be discussed at a commission meeting in the autumn, comes from the task force set up by Mr Kinnock to streamline the way the EC works.

Romano Prodi, EC President
Prodi: Received Franco-German protest
It has come under fierce attack in the French press, with the Liberation newspaper accusing EU officials of wanting to ensure national languages should be "relegated to the status of quaint dialects".

Urging Mr Prodi to abandon the plan in a joint letter, the French and German foreign ministers said any moves that "could only favour unilingualism in the European institutions" would be "unacceptable".

In his reply, the EC president said it remained a fundamental EU principle for people to be able to read laws in their own language.

Efficiency drive

The source said: "Internally the commission must make the most efficient possible use of its resources, and it is in this context that simplifying some language circuits is being considered."

English overtook French as the most used language six years ago and with French and German makes up the EC's working languages, although German has hardly ever been used.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MEP
Heaton-Harris: Transation costs could rise even further
Most internal working papers currently have to be translated into the three working languages while they are re-drafted during internal discussions.

But some have to go into all of the EU's 11 official languages, making the decision making process less flexible.

The EC source said: "Much of this work is a complete waste of time since texts are only discussed in the original language, and translators struggle to keep other versions up-to-date."

Under the new plan, all necessary translations would be done after the final text had been agreed in what officials say would save hundreds of hours of work.

Common sense call

Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris, who speaks on European budgetary matters, said the translation costs were already tremendous and could run into hundreds of millions of pounds as the EU expands.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There has got to be some common sense somewhere.

"We are spending more on translation and producing paper that has languages that few people read with everyone's exciting speeches across Europe - we are just wasting money."

That did not convince Marc Roche, London correspondent of Le Monde newspaper, who pressed for commission documents to be produced in all the EU's languages.

'Terrible idea'

He criticised Mr Kinnock's plans: "I think it's a terrible idea... It's a perfidious British plot in order to transform the EU into a sort of English speaking area."

The EC currently employs 2,500 translators among its 20,000 staff and its translation costs make up 1% of the annual budget but 40% of administration costs.

As the commission's vice-president, former Labour Party leader Mr Kinnock is trying to push through a reform package that will persuade the European public that the EC is working more efficiently.

Some observers see the language row as just the latest example of French suspicion of Mr Prodi and Mr Kinnock.

The BBC's Justin Webb
"Most documents in the Commission are now drawn up in English"

Language row
Is English conquering Europe?
See also:

28 Feb 01 | Europe
Brussels tackles pay and perks
13 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Prodi plot 'rubbish' says Kinnock
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