Sworn translator and interpreter in the European Union – a hero or a dinosaur?

In the realities of the European Union, language is not only the subject of cultural heritage, but also the object and instrument of economic activity. The ability to communicate in more than one language brings benefits individually and collectively: it stimulates creativity, helps to break cultural stereotypes and go beyond the traditional way of thinking. In a word, multilingualism is of great economic importance. It also promotes mobility - people who speak languages ​​are more likely to travel abroad to study or work. This, in turn, increases competitiveness in the internal market.

Participants in the EU internal market use foreign languages ​​to shape their legal situation in order to achieve economic benefits. Although language requirements pose a certain limitation, they are the same for everyone and allow everyone to assert their rights equally.

Every business activity in another EU Member State, regardless of whether it is carried out by an employee, a freelancer or an enterprise, usually requires administrative formalities to be dealt with by the national authorities of that state. Let's see when a sworn translator or interpreter is needed.

#1. Communication with EU institutions

Every citizen has the right to participate in the democratic life of the EU. The EU institutions are committed to providing citizens and representative associations with opinions and public exchanges of views in all areas of EU activity. To increase the participation of citizens in the democratic life of the EU, the EU must provide the opportunity to use the tool which is the language. Citizens' activity increases if they can use their mother tongue or at least the official language of the country of residence. Therefore, any EU citizen can write to any EU institution or body in one of the official languages ​​of EU Member States and receive a reply in the same language. If EU institutions send documents to a Member State or a person under the jurisdiction of a Member State, they prepare it in the official language of that Member State countries.

The legal acts shall be drawn up in the official EU languages. The Official Journal of the EU is published in the official languages. The official languages ​​are equal, and multilingualism in the EU is treated as a value.

A sworn translator does not take part in communication with the EU institutions. EU legislative acts are already translated into the official languages ​​of the Member States. The role of a sworn translator is small here.


The Publications Office of the European Union provides access to EU law via the EUR-Lex portal in the 24 official languages of the Member States. This service includes online access to the EU Official Journal, treaties, laws both in force and in preparation, jurisprudence as well as references to other sources of information, such as registers of institutions, websites regarding EU legislation and Member States.

Jan Kowalski is dissatisfied with the operation of the city office in his town. He asked the office to rectify the situation. Because it did not work, he writes a complaint to the European Ombudsman. The complaint is drawn up on a form in Polish downloaded from the Ombudsman's website. The answer will also be in Polish.

However, if you need to translate a text containing the EU terminology, the following portals will help you:

  • IATE (InterActive Terminology for Europe) is a multilingual terminology database used for translations in European institutions, containing a search engine for phrases used in all areas of EU activity. Proper use of this database requires knowledge of the target language at a specialist level, which makes the tool useful for professional translators.

  • Glossary of the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters contains concise definitions of expressions used on subpages, helpful in understanding the content read, but not binding legal definitions.

  • The multilingual EUROVOC thesaurus is a comparative set of vocabulary from various fields of EU activity, enabling indexing of documents in the documentation systems of the EU institutions.

  • On the website of the Court of Justice of the EU you will find a list of multilingual terminology records in the field of migration law and family law.

  • The e-Justice portal provides multilingual information in the field of justice in the EU. It is addressed mainly to citizens and enterprises, but also to lawyers and judges. Information is available in all official EU languages ​​(except Irish).

#2. Certified translation of documents

Member States must mutually accept documents issued by the authorities of another Member State for a similar purpose. Moreover, in principle, they should accept unauthenticated translations of such documents. Authenticated translations may only be required in exceptional cases where other EU instruments provide for it or where such a requirement is justified by an overriding reason supporting the public interest, including public order and security. EU law does not violate the right of Member States to request a translation. However, it introduces restrictions on the application of formal requirements, which to a large extent limits this right.

A sworn translator is needed here, although the scope of documents that must be translated is limited by EU law.


The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that the right to request the translation of certain documents does not infringe the principle of the free movement of services if it is justified by an overriding general interest and is proportionate. The Court ruled on the compliance with the provisions of the Treaty of the German regulation requiring foreign employers employing workers in Germany to translate some documents into German. The German law also obliged to keep these documents in the workplace for the entire period of employees' stay. The Court acknowledged that this obligation constitutes a restriction on the freedom to provide services, as it entails additional expenditure and additional administrative and financial burdens for foreign enterprises. In other words, these companies are not on an equal competitive position with companies based in Germany. However, according to the Court, this obligation may be justified by the general objective of social protection of employees, because it enables the competent authority of the host Member State to monitor compliance with the relevant national rules. Since the Regulation required only a few documents to be translated and did not involve a significant financial or administrative burden on the employer, according to the Court, it did not go beyond what was necessary to achieve the social protection of employees.

#3. Court translation

The Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings is an attempt to extend the linguistic rights related to the exercise of certain rights included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It sets out the minimum obligations of Member States to ensure the right to interpretation and translation, as protected by the Charter. The Directive recognizes the presence of qualified interpreters and translators in criminal proceedings as an important element of a fair trial and protection of suspects' rights. Any hearing without an interpreter for an accused who does not know the language of criminal proceedings is an obvious violation of EU law and international law.

The right to interpretation and translation is available to those who do not understand the language of criminal proceedings. This right must be exercised from the moment the person becomes aware of the suspicion or accusation of committing a crime until the end of the criminal proceedings, including conviction and appeal proceedings.

A sworn translator is necessary here - moreover, Member States are to take special measures to ensure the quality of interpreting services, which are to consist, among other things, in establishing a register or registers of independent translators with appropriate qualifications. In Poland, the list of sworn translators is maintained by the Minister of Justice.


If you do not speak the language used by the police or other law enforcement agencies, or do not understand it, you have the right to a free interpreter. An interpreter can help you speak with your lawyer and must maintain the confidentiality of this conversation.

You have the right to translate at least relevant parts of relevant documents, including any court decisions on the basis of which you were detained or arrested, any charge or indictment and any judgment. In some circumstances, you can get a translation or an oral summary.

You have the right to translation of the European Arrest Warrant in a language that you understand. In some circumstances, you can get a translation or an oral summary.

#4. Recognition of professional qualifications

Although the Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications does not mention translation, EU Member States commonly require certified translations of documents. However, the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU has set limits to the freedom of the Member States. States cannot demand the translation of authenticated documents when the requirement is disproportionate and can not be justified by overriding interests.


The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that the obligation to submit a citizenship certificate and provide certified translations of all documents relating to the application for recognition of qualifications can not be considered necessary or justified by overriding reasons in the public interest.

Translations can only be requested if it is really necessary to process the application. Certified translations must be limited to relevant documents relating only to: professional qualifications; acquired rights; personal information; professional experience. An authenticated translation of standard documents, such as ID cards or passports, can not be required. Translation should not be required for professional qualifications, the name of which is clearly stated in the Directive. Furthermore, Member States must accept certified translations issued in another Member State and may not require only certified translations made by national sworn translators.

In 2008, the Commission issued a recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework, which is a common European reference framework connecting national qualifications systems acting as a translation tool. The idea was to make qualifications more readable and understandable in the systems of different countries in the EU. The learning outcomes are divided into various levels, which is to help employees describe their competences and employers - interpret the qualifications of candidates. It is a useful program to simplify European skills and qualifications recognition tools.

The framework is currently linked to the ESCO - a multilingual classification system covering skills, competences, qualifications and professions. The ESCO is part of the Europe 2020 strategy. The ESCO classification defines and prioritizes skills, competences, qualifications and professions relevant to the EU labor market as well as education and training. Common terminology is to help make the European labor market more integrated and enable more effective communication between the world of work and education.

A sworn translator is also needed here, although the scope of documents that he must translate is limited.

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Osiejewicz J. (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.

Osiejewicz J. (2015), Legal Education of Court Interpreters and Sworn Translators upon the Directive 2010/64/EU, „International Journal on New Trends in Education and Their Implications (IJONTE)”, T. 6, nr 1, s. 151-162.

©2018 by joannaosiejewicz.