EU pharma and banking laws get stuck in translation

Several pieces of EU legislation in sectors including banking and pharmaceuticals face severe delays because it is taking too long to translate documents, the European parliament has said.

Translators have been deluged by lengthy and complicated proposals from the European Commission in response to the war in Ukraine and in combating climate change, officials say, on top of planned reforms to the single market.

With less than a year left before the EU parliament breaks up ahead of 2024 elections, lawmakers are grappling with around 200 pieces of legislation which still require their vote. They have warned that time may be too short to approve all of them.

Parliamentary officials told the Financial Times that they had still not received translated copies of proposals to update the EU’s bank crisis management system and improve deposit insurance, which were adopted in April. Every 100 pages takes 30 days to translate, an official said.

“The parliament is often accused of taking time and the commission says it needs to use urgent procedures bypassing us,” said a parliament official.

But all legislation, whether passed in emergency or regular proceedings, needs to be translated into 24 official languages and checked by lawyers before entering the final stages of negotiation. The final law has to be translated once more.

Roberta Metsola, the parliament’s president, wrote to her counterpart at the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in April to complain about the delays, saying they were “unsatisfactory” and should be shortened.

“If the dossiers are to be finalised before the European elections in June 2024, parliament must be in a position to start working on them without any unnecessary delay,” she wrote in the letter obtained by the FT.

By way of example, a reform of the pharmaceutical market will not be fully translated until September, five months after its adoption, EU lawmakers have warned in a separate letter to the commission. Post-adoption translation usually takes several weeks.

“We believe that such an approach is unacceptable,” wrote Pascal Canfin, a French MEP who heads the environment committee. He and other lawmakers complained that the commission had factored in even longer delays, of up to seven and half months — a prospect they described as “unacceptable” and “regrettable” in light of the importance of the health rules. 

The commission said that the “pharmaceutical market revision is a key reform in the area of health. It is also a complex, technical and sizeable package of almost 950 pages.”

A spokesperson said: “It is a priority for the commission to make sure that high-quality legal translations are delivered as soon as possible, and our translators are working at full speed to ensure this.”

Beyond delays to new legislation, there are concerns that the negotiations between the commission, parliament and member states on political advertising will drag on, missing the next election.

Additional reporting by Ian Johnston in Brussels

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