Multilingual interpretation of European Union law
SILVIA FERRERI – CDCT Working Paper 40-2015 /ELC 23
Abstract: The policy implemented within the EEC by Regulation N. 1/1958 to guarantee the citizens’ linguistic rights provides that all the official languages of the Member states have the same status. The ECJ has repeatedly confirmed the equal value of all the linguistic versions. This ambitious choice has created a real challenge for the drafters of legislation and interpreters alike. Very few similar experiences exist in contemporary times, perhaps only South Africa has a similar variety of official languages. The reaction of many observers has often been tainted of skepticism: the least that can generally be said is that judges will hardly be able to effectively consider all the (now) 24 versions of any piece of relevant legislation. The most likely situation is that an interpreter will seek confirmation of his/her reading of a disputed provision in the languages most similar to one’s own (or in a foreign language that for historical reasons is widely known in a certain territory). Within the ECJ case law one of the most evident consequences is the prevailing inclination toward a purposive interpretation: only having regard to the aims of a regulation or a directive announced in the opening recitals and in the preparatory works can an ambiguous rule be clarified, if the several texts are equivalent and none of them has the standing of “authentic” text.