ELF, European Law, integration and translation issues. Portuguese and OTHERs & Translation
Thread poster: Andre Matias

Andre Matias
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Feb 18, 2015

What are the main challenges that national legal systems currently face towards European Law and Translation?
Assuming that most of the EU legislation is translated from English into Portuguese is it often to find clashes and inconsistencies when interpreting certain EU document in its PT version and the Portuguese legal system as a whole? Does EU documentation really offer a challenge for interpretation and integration of the legal dispositions when it is received in the PT legal system due to clashes with the PT legal tradition? Or in the contrary, most of the EU legislation in its PT version comes in harmony with the PT legal system, meaning that the challenges from the point of view of legal translation are of minor importance? Also, is the influence of ELF in Europe enlarging such problems?


Deirdre Brophy (X)  Identity Verified
English to Irish
+ ...
Difficult, but it can be done... Feb 18, 2015

I wrote my Masters dissertation on an aspect of this topic and from what I read it seems that while translation of EU involves some challenges, such as:
- Applying the same concepts across different legal systems and cultures
- Different languages (obviously)
- Some of the same terms as used in national law, but with different meanings
- All languages have equal legal validity, so how can you decide which language version is correct in the event of a divergence in meaning?

On the whole it works out in the end because:
- While EU law is often inspired by particular concepts in a given legal system, everyone in the national system knows they are dealing with something foreign, so they assume concepts will have a special EU meaning.
- Judges in the Court of Justice use a system of "harmonised interpretation" - they look at all the language versions and the purpose of the text to interpret EU law.
- The interaction between national courts and the Court of Justice organised through the preliminary ruling procedure - national courts can ask questions directly to the ECJ if they are unsure of how to in interpret EU law.

There have been only a handful of cases throughout the years on this issue, the most well-known case being CILFIT (I think), there is a summary here: http://www.caselawofeu.com/acte-clair-and-cilfit-case/

I have not heard of ELF, what does it stand for?

[Edited at 2015-02-18 22:24 GMT]


Andre Matias
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:34
English to Portuguese
+ ...
English as Lingua Franca and the Anglophonization of the EU Feb 18, 2015

Thanks for your answer, Deirdre.

I'm also completing a Masters degree in Translation, here in Ireland, and I've raised the question because I'm trying to define a topic for my dissertation. I haven't had much training in legal translation so far, but since I also hold a degree in Law, that is a natural topic of great interest to me.

Do you think that despite existing tools at the reach of the EU-members to harmonize the EU legal interpretation is it common for EU legal documentation to "clash" with the legal tradition/system of the different EU-members in a way that represents a challenge for translation?

Sorry I should have clarified that - ELF, stands for "English as Lingua Franca" in the EU (particularly, as means of documentation drafting), which I wonder if and in what extend affects EU translation of legal documentation in a sense that the different legal docs in their national versions may be affected by typical English features of expression and corrupted by typical legal Anglophone concepts during the translation process (despite of highly qualified professionals as lawyer linguists).

Thank you.


Steven Segaert
Local time: 10:34
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Not a vacuum Feb 19, 2015

I think we should remember that European legislation does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it originates from outside of the member states.

When a piece of legislation is considered, experts and working groups from all member states get involved. Problems with interpretation or transposition into national law are mostly ironed out at that time.

Most interpretation issues have to do with (a) the validity of EU-legal instruments in view of the Treaties and (b) how to apply a piece of legislation to a changing national legal framework and to topics that are outside of the temporal, personal or material scope of what has been considered at the time of drafting.

All in all, EU-legislation works well from a technical point of view, because it is made by and with involvement of the Member States. The institutions that make and interpret EU-legislation are supranational, but the persons who constitute these institutions form a balanced team reflecting diverse traditions and national interests.


Andrea Muller  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:34
English to German
+ ...
Eleanor Sharpston? Feb 19, 2015

Hi Andre

On EU (ECJ) translation issues, I really like AG Eleanor Sharpston's lectures. It is all more from an English point of view, but I think she is an excellent lively speaker.




Deirdre Brophy (X)  Identity Verified
English to Irish
+ ...
ELF Feb 19, 2015


I would agree that English as a lingua franca is a growing phenomenon in the EU institutions, and it would definitely be an interesting question to look into. I don't know whether it has been researched in-depth yet.

I don't know whether English disproportionately affects other legal systems or not compared to say German or French.

For example, the structure of the European Commission seems to be full of Frenchisms, who ever heard of a "Directorate General" in English? I would be called a department or something else. And in the CILFIT case, for example, they talk about the "acte clair" doctrine - a French concept as far as I know. Or for example, the whole doctrine of legitimate expectations originally comes from German law as far as I know and has been adopted into Irish law and many other legal systems.

It could be that when the EU was set up, French had more influence on the legal language and that this is changing now in favour of English.

In the European Commission a lot of drafting seems to be done in English these days. When I did my internship we mostly translated from English.

However, I am not sure that this is the case for the other institutions. In the Court of Justice, the working language is still French and lawyers make their oral submissions in their own language.


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