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CM/Inf(98)47corr  / 01 December 1998 

Committee of Ministers

Comité des Ministres

Strasbourg, 27 November 1998 Restricted




Without changing the formal situation with regard to the official languages of the Council of Europe, the Secretary General has been anxious to adopt a more flexible approach to the use of non-official languages in the work of the Organisation, taking account of the linguistic realities of the Europe of today. In line with this approach, the Committee of Ministers in 1997 adopted provisions for extending language services.

In the 1997 budget the Ministers’ Deputies included an appropriation of 5,000,000 FF to finance additional expenditure relating to the use of non-official languages in various sectors of the Organisation. This sum was initially frozen, but was unblocked at the 586th meeting in March 1997. An appropriation of the same amount was made for this purpose in the 1998 budget. In the same decision at the 586th meeting of the Deputies the Secretary General was asked to report back to the Deputies on the use made of the monies voted. That is the purpose of the present document.

The appropriation of 5 MF included in sub-head 1104C of the ordinary budget was intended to cover expenditure for both interpretation and translation. These two items will be treated separately below.


The Deputies’ decision stipulated that it was the responsibility of the Secretary General

“1. to use the appropriation in a rigorous and fair manner primarily on the basis of the number of national delegations which have indicated in the past and/or indicate in the future that they require interpretation in a non-official language for a particular meeting or group of meetings in the sphere of intergovernmental co-operation;

2. in the light of these indications, which should be submitted through the Permanent Representations, and within the limits of the resources available, to provide interpretation.”

By letter of 28 April 1997, delegations were informed how the Secretary General proposed to implement this decision. In particular, having regard to the wording of the decision and the limited appropriations available, priority would be given to requests for interpretation submitted by at least three delegations. Furthermore, for organisational reasons, it would not be possible to accept requests made less than six weeks before the meeting in question.

In practice, the consequence has been that for meetings of the main steering and ad hoc committees listed in Appendix II to the Intergovernmental Programme of Activities, as well as the Governmental Committee of the Social Charter, at least “passive” interpretation has been provided in German (i.e. interpretation out of, but not into, German); for certain of these meetings “active” interpretation has been provided at the request of the German-speaking delegations.

For meetings of the Committee of Ministers at foreign minister level (as well as for the Strasbourg Summit of Heads of State and Government) the Secretary General has taken the initiative to provide “active” interpretation in German, Italian and Russian and “passive” interpretation in Spanish. The same applies to plenary sessions of conferences of specialised ministers, unless the delegations concerned have indicated that they need only “passive” interpretation.

Finally, in exceptional cases the Secretary General has used his discretion to provide interpretation in a particular language when it appeared indispensable for the effective participation of a delegation or delegations at a meeting or conference.

As far as the cost of providing such facilities is concerned, the initial period has inevitably been experimental. In 1997, as a result of the temporary freezing of the appropriation by the Deputies up to the month of March, followed by the need to define the conditions governing the implementation of the Decision, interpretation in non-official languages was financed only for the second half of the year. However, in order to ensure his ability to maintain continuity in interpretation policy in the following full-year exercise, the Secretary General strictly applied the criteria laid down in keeping with the spirit of the Deputies’ decision. As a result, 1,706,593 FF out of the full-year estimate of 3,500,000 FF were spent on interpretation in non-official languages in 1997. As for 1998, it is expected that the full-year expenditure will not greatly exceed 2,000,000 FF. However, this is partly due to the unusually low number of ministerial conferences organised in 1998, and it is therefore not a reliable guide for future years.

Translation and dissemination

In the same decision of March 1997, the Ministers’ Deputies specified that it was the Secretary General’s responsibility, as regards translation, “to ensure the translation into non-official languages and the dissemination of texts which are important for the activities of the Organisation".

The Secretary General decided that in the field of translation the first main use of the budgetary appropriation for non-official languages should be to improve the availability of concrete results of the Council of Europe’s work in the languages of the various member states. He therefore launched an operation to publish in all the official languages of the member states a volume containing a selection of the conventions constituting the core of the legal acquis of the Organisation.

This operation has been carried out in close co-operation with the Permanent Representations concerned. In particular, it has been necessary to identify and make use of those translations already existing. Moreover, the task of ensuring the full conformity of all new translations has been particularly time-consuming because of the legal importance of the texts concerned. An agreed national chief editor has been appointed to co-ordinate and control the preparation of each non-official language version.

This consultation with national delegations has in many cases taken much more time than expected, which has led to delays in the spending of the part of the appropriation reserved for translation purposes. However, the first volumes are due to be published before the end of 1998, and several more during the first part of 1999 (see appendix).

Because of these delays, the Deputies authorised the carry-over to the 1998 budget of 2,500,000 FF. For the same reasons, the Secretary General is obliged to request a further carry-over of 800,000 FF into1999. However, the delay has now been largely caught up and it is expected that the sum carried over will be spent in the first part of 1999.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General has supplemented this translation initiative principally as follows:

1. A brief summary of all the Council of Europe treaties which still remain relevant is being translated and published in the official languages of all the member states (in principle available at the end of this year).

2. Considering the approach of the 50th anniversary and the emphasis placed by the Committee of Ministers on the need to enhance the visibility of the Organisation, he has authorised the translation into non-official languages of certain texts designed to make the Council of Europe known to a broader public (e.g. the brochure “Activities and Achievements”, a file for school-teachers, documentation on bilateral relations between individual member states and the Council of Europe, texts for exhibitions in national parliaments,…..).

3. The report of the Wise Persons is being translated into German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

4. Certain basic texts of importance for the MOSAIC Project on cultural policy development are being translated into several languages of central and south-east Europe.


While the provision of certain facilities in non-official languages has inevitably encountered a number of teething troubles, the Secretary General considers that, taken as a whole, it has fulfilled the objectives which he had in mind when he first made his proposal. In his view the overall annual sum of 5 MF represents approximately what is needed to make a genuine impact. He has therefore proposed that the Committee of Ministers continue to make similar provision for non-official languages in the 1999 budget. He also suggests that the arrangements governing the use of this appropriation be maintained, so that, on the one hand, the Interpretation Division has the necessary guidelines for its normal planning but, on the other hand, the Secretary General retains discretion to make ad hoc arrangements in cases of manifest need.


Situation regarding the submission of manuscripts containing the treaties expected dates for printing






late 98, or early 99



1st quarter 1999

German language    
Czech Republic    

available late 1998

2nd quarter 1999


1st quarter 1999

2nd half of 1999


Considerable progress has been made with regard to the preparation of the manuscript for the following countries :

    Portugal, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia, the Netherlands (the two latter countries have nearly completed the work).

The work is starting for Romania and Moldova.

Note 1 This report, following decisions taken by the Ministers' Deputies at their 506th meeting on the working methods of the Ministers' Deputies, is distributed but will not be placed on the agenda of a meeting of the Deputies unless expressly requested by a delegation.



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