What a long way we have come since the end of the 1950s, when four languages only were spoken in the institutions of the European Communities! Today, no fewer than 23 official languages are used in the European Parliament, which is an immense linguistic challenge.


The first regulation adopted by the European Communities in 1958 laid down that the official languages of the institutions would be the four languages - Dutch, French, German and Italian - of the founding countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

With each successive enlargement the languages of the new Member States were added. In 1973, Danish, English and Irish were added (Irish with a special status as 'Treaty language' meaning that Ireland's Act of Accession and the basic texts relating to Ireland were translated), followed by Greek in 1981, Portuguese and Spanish in 1986 and Finnish and Swedish in 1995. In 2004, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak and Slovene became official EU languages.

Since 1 January 2007, the European Union has had a total of 23 official languages following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, Irish having also become an official language on the same date.

These 23 official languages make a total of 506 possible combinations, since each language can be translated into 22 others. In order to meet this challenge, the European Parliament has set up highly efficient interpreting, translation and legal text verification services. Very strict rules have been put in place to guarantee the efficiency of these services and to hold the budgetary cost down to reasonable levels.