Do you need to translate your documents to work in your profession or trade in the EU?

In the realities of the European Union, language is not only an object of cultural heritage, but also an object and instrument of economic activity that the EU is interested in. What does is mean for you if you wish to work in another EU Member State?


According to the Services Directive, the Member States do not only have to mutually accept documents produced by another Member State’s authority serving equivalent purpose, but they have to accept non-certified translations of these documents. Certified translations can only be required in exceptional cases, if provided for in other EU instruments or where such a requirement is justified by an overriding purpose supporting the public interest, including public order and security. The Directive does not prejudice the Member States’ right to ask for translations, introduces, however a prohibition on formality limiting this rights significantly. This right to require translations for certain documents was acknowledged by the CJEU as not violating the principle of free movement of services provided this is justified by an overriding reason of general interest and is proportionate.

In case C-490/04 , the Court of Justice of the European Union was asked to rule on the compatibility with the Treaty provisions of a German regulation requiring foreign employers employing workers in Germany to translate into German certain documents and to maintain them at the place of work for the duration of the workers’ stay. The CJEU admitted that the obligation constitutes a restriction on the freedom to provide services becouse it involves additional expenses and additional administrative and financial burden for undertakings established in another Member State. In other words, those undertakings do not find themselves on an equal competitive position with employers established in the host Member State.

However, the CJEU ruled on that the obligation may be justified by a general-interest objective, that is the social protection of workers, since it enables the competent authorities of the host Member State to monitor compliance with relevant national provisions. Because the regulation required only few documents to be translated and did not involve a heavy financial or administrative burden for the employer, it does not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the social protection of workers.

Recognition of professional qualifications

Although the Professional Qualifications Directive (hereafter: PQD)is silent on translations, the common practice of the Member States is to require certified translations of documents for the respective procedures. However, the case-law of the CJEU set limits on the freedom of Member States to require certified translations of all documents to be submitted to the authorities when the requirement is disproportionate and cannot be justified by overriding interests. In the Case C-298/99, the CJEU did not give detailed reasoning for its position, but pointed ou that the obligation to submit a certificate of nationality and to provide certified translations of all documents relating to the application for recognition cannot be regarded as necessary or be justified by overriding reasons in the public interest.

In 2009, the Commission adopted a Code of Conduct based on best practices of Member States’ in order to promote the implementation of the PQD. The Code covers, i. a., language requirements, according to which translations may only be necessary if genuinely needed for processing an application and certified or approved translations must be confined to essential documents only including professional qualification, certificate of acquired rights, personal information, certificates on professional experience. Certified translations of standard documents, such as identity cards or passports, may not be required. The Code indicates to be the best practice the not-requiring of translation in the case of professional qualifications whose denomination is clearly indicated in the PQD. Moreover, the Member States must accept certified translations issued in another Member State and cannot insist on the presentation of certified translations prepared by sworn translators under their own jurisdiction. The PQD was modernized, accordingly, in 2013 by Directive 2013/55/EU.

The standardization of qualifications or references to qualifications is a vital step to reduce translation burdens in the EU internal market. In 2008, the EC issued a Recommendation on the European Qualification Framework (EQF). The EQF is a common European reference framework which links states’ qualifications systems together, acting as a translation device to make qualifications more readable and understandable across different states’ systems in Europe. Under the EQF, learning outcomes are divided into different levels, making it easier for workers to describe their competences and employers to interpret applicants’ qualifications. It proved to be a strong support for action to simplify European tools for recognition of skills and qualifications.

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Joanna Osiejewicz (2018), Legal Communication and Translation Standards in the EU Internal Market, W: M. Dei, O. Rudenko (red.), Association Agreement : From Partnership to Cooperation : collective monograph, Hamilton : Accent Graphics Communications & Publishing, s. 9-13.

Directive 2005/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications (Text with EEA relevance), OJ L 255, 30.9.2005, p. 22–142.

Judgment of 21 March 2002, Commission of the European Communities v Italian Republic, ECLI:EU:C:2002:194.

Directive 2013/55/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 amending Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications and Regulation (EU) No 1024/2012 on administrative cooperation through the Internal Market Information System ( ‘the IMI Regulation’ ) Text with EEA relevance, OJ L 354, 28.12.2013, p. 132–170.

Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (Text with EEA relevance), OJ C 111, 6.5.2008, p. 1–7.

©2018 by joannaosiejewicz.