Translation Essential to Supporting EU’s ‘United in Diversity’ Motto, says EC

Translation is essential if the EU’s motto of “united in diversity” is to be upheld, according to the European Commission’s recent report, “Translators on the Cover”. The EC stated that it is committed to ensuring that translators are given the pay and protections they deserve as their work helps expand book and publication circulation. The EC endorsement of the vital role played by translators comes at a time when the translation industry faces several challenges, including the lack of qualified translators and poor working conditions. Translators are an essential part of the European Union, and the EC report lays out best practices and recommendations to support the profession.

Key findings 

Book circulation is lower in the EU than in other regions, the report says, largely because of a lack of translated works. Only 26% of books published in the EU are translations, compared to 44% in North America and 52% in Asia. The scarcity of translated works not only limits readers’ access to different cultures but also hurts the European economy. In addressing the challenges, the EC report focuses on two key aspects –how to support the translation sector overall and how public funding can help boost the circulation of books.

Support for the sector

The EC believes that the sector’s lack of appeal stems from poor working conditions and the associated impact on its reputation. The sector lacks proper recognition and incentives for translators, as a result of which translators are isolated and disconnected both from the original writers and their publishers, it states.

The EC allows that publishers run a financial risk when publishing smaller works and that this means that translators are often forced into accepting lower fees and unattractive contracts. The sector needs collective representation and consistency in practices across the EU. Mechanisms are already in place that can help support the sector and improve work conditions and pay but applying them means using their availability in a more focused way.

The EC maintains that raising public awareness and promoting vocational opportunities in the sector are critical. Introducing young students to language and culture early and promoting language studies at the university level are essential to building and strengthening the multi-lingual profession.

Public Funding 

Public funding can also help boost the circulation of books, yet currently, such practices and support vary across the EU. The report recommends taking a holistic approach not just to support translation but to the entire book supply chain in order to promote cultural diversity and boost book circulation. This would ensure an EU-wide fair practices protocol between writers, publishers, translators, and book stores. Without reciprocity and cooperation, the EC believes fair remuneration cannot be achieved.

Furthermore, the EC claims that the EU must move away from a “pure export strategy.” The report calls for increased funding support for national reading programmes. Funders should promote work from abroad in bookshops and literary festivals. Public funding should promote domestic translation with grants to publishers to help promote foreign works domestically.

Work in progress

The EC does recognise that some improvements have reached the sector, noting that public funding increased during Covid-19, and suggesting that these financial developments should be sustained. Also, it advises that a more robust data collection system needs to be developed to monitor the sector. The report concludes by saying that the issue should be the subject of an ongoing dialogue at European and national levels.


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