The EU is characterised by its cultural and linguistic diversity, and the languages spoken in EU countries are an essential part of its cultural heritage. This is why the EU supports multilingualism in its programmes and in the work of its institutions.
The EU has 24 official languages:
Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.
Every time new members have joined the EU, they have added to the number of official languages.
Official EU language since...
- 1958: Dutch, French, German, Italian
- 1973: Danish, English
- 1981: Greek
- 1986: Portuguese, Spanish
- 1995: Finnish, Swedish
- 2004: Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian
- 2007: Bulgarian, Irish, Romanian
- 2013: Croatian
One of the EU’s founding principles is multilingualism.
This policy aims to:
- communicating with its citizens in their own languages
- protecting Europe’s rich linguistic diversity
- promoting language learning in Europe
This is a unique approach, unequalled by multilingual countries or international organisations.
Multilingualism is enshrined in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights: EU nationals have the right to use any of the 24 official languages to communicate with the EU institutions, and the institutions must reply in the same language.
Legal acts and their summaries are available in all official EU languages.
Meetings of the European Council and the Council of the European Union are interpreted into all official languages. Members of the European Parliament have the right to use any official language when speaking in Parliament.
This is where conference interpreters and translators come into play, to convey the spoken and written word in all 24 EU official languages, and in other languages when necessary.
EU language rules
The Council establishes the rules on the use of languages by the EU institutions, acting unanimously by means of regulations adopted in accordance with Article 342 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The rules are laid down in Regulation No 1, which states that the institutions have 24 official and working languages.
English remains an official EU language, despite the United Kingdom having left the EU. It remains an official and working language of the EU institutions as long as it is listed as such in Regulation No 1. English is also one of Ireland’s and Malta’s official languages.
Regulation No 1 also lays down rules on the languages in which EU law has to be drafted and published, as well as the languages for documents sent between EU institutions and the public or between the institutions and EU countries. The EU institutions are also entitled to determine how they themselves implement language arrangements internally.