Process by which EU documents are drawn up
Thread poster: Neil Coffey

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:57
French to English
+ ...
Oct 8, 2010

For reasons I'll go into in a second, my question is essentially this:

- In multilingual documents drawn up by the EU Parliament/Council, does anybody know anything about the actual process -- i.e. is there a document drawn up in one "source" language, and then the others are translations? Do they all go from the same source, or could there be a "family tree" of translations (e.g. the English gets translated into French, then the French into Spanish...)

OK, the reason I ask is this: a research paper I'm currently translating quotes from (actually paraphrases slightly) the Spanish version of an EU publication. The offending section goes as follows:

"...los conceptos básicos relativos al individuo, al grupo, a la organización del trabajo, la igualdad y la no discriminación entre hombres y mujeres..."

[The document in question is 2006/962/CE, "Recommendation ... on key competences and learning".]

Now, here's what the English and French say:

"basic concepts relating to individuals, groups, work organisations, gender equality and non-discrimination..."
"les notions fondamentales d'individu, de groupe, d'organisation du travail, d'égalité entre les hommes et les femmes et de non-discrimination..."

Notice how "la organización del trabajo" (which usually means something like "organisation of work", "the way that work is organiesd and distributed within society") has become in English "work organisations", although the French "organisation du travail" would have the same meaning as the Spanish. Notice too how what was non-discrimination specifically from the point of view of gender in the Spanish has become just non-discrimination in general in the French, and in the English it's a bit ambiguous.

So taking any pair from these three languages, none of them actually concur on all parts of the sentence.

So... to re-iterate my question... does anyone know typically what would be the "source" of these documents, or which version to actually take as being the intended one...?

[Edited at 2010-10-08 20:04 GMT]


FarkasAndras  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:57
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Almost always English Oct 8, 2010

There are a hundred different kinds of EU documents with a thousand different procedures, so it sort of depends. Most of the time, stuff gets drafted in English and then translated from English to every language. If a text gets drafted in another language, it's quite possible that it will get translated into English first and then from English to all the other languages, not directly from French or whatever the original language was. I don't think they ever do daisy chains (if the original is English, they go En-Fr, En-Es, En-De, not En-Fr, Fr-Es, Es-De etc.)

If the English text sounds stilted, awkward or just plain wrong, that doesn't mean it's a translation. A lot of the time, the people writing these documents are not native speakers of English, but they write them in English anyway because for all practical purposes that's the (main) working language in most EU organisations.
The Court is an exception (I'm told they use French there) but at the Commission and Council it's usually English. The Parliament is more multilingual but I think they tend to produce their written documents in English first as well. E.g. I know for a fact that EP plenary transcripts get translated from all languages into English first, and then into all languages. Translators are even told to work from the English translation even if they speak the original language.

BTW your document is 2006/962/EC, not CE (European Communities vs. Comunidades Europeas).
Here it is in prelex, in case you want to know about its prehistory:


Vi Pukite  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:57
Member (2009)
Latvian to English
+ ...
3 source languages Oct 8, 2010

The Council of the EU, and I believe the Parliament and Commission also, uses one of the 3 working languages as document source languages: English, French, German. German shows up as the language of the source document hardly at all, French less and less, by far the most common is English. Documents are not translated serially - English into Spanish, then the Spanish into Greek, say. That said, occasionally at the Council if deadlines were tight both the English and French documents were used as source, one having been translated from the other. In your example, all one could say at this point is that the Spanish was translated from either the English or French.


Teresa Borges
Local time: 10:57
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It also happens Oct 9, 2010

that one single document contains different "contributions" from various sources (quite common regarding mostly CoR and EESC)!


Henky de Vries
Local time: 11:57
Russian to Dutch
+ ...
EU documents Oct 9, 2010

Documents are written either in French or English. The translators know what the source language is. As soon as the document has been published, the EU speaks no longer of translations, but of "versions", since all translations are authentical. It is impossible to find out what the source language is.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:57
French to English
+ ...
Interesting! Oct 10, 2010

Thanks to all who have replied, including a couple of people who replied privately.

It looks like the source language ISN'T Spanish at any rate.

I think the notion of "authentic versions" is interesting when the different "versions" actually say different things...icon_smile.gif

[Epilogue for Spanish speakers: in the same document, we find "be prepared both to overcome prejudices and to compromise" translated as "estar dispuestas a superar los prejuicios y a comprometerse"...]


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