DP4795 Languages in the EU: The Quest for Equality and Its Cost

Author(s): Jan Fidrmuc, Victor Ginsburgh
Publication Date: December 2004
Keyword(s): cost and benefit analysis, disenfranchisement, European Union, languages
JEL(s): D70, O52, Z13
Programme Areas: Institutions and Economic Performance
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=4795

The European Union has recently expanded from 15 to 25 countries. In line with this enlargement, the list of official EU languages has grown from 11 to 20. Currently, the EU extends equal treatment to all member countries? official languages by providing translations for documents and interpreting services for meetings and sessions of the European Parliament. This, however, is costly, especially when recognizing that many Europeans speak one of the procedural languages of the EU - English, French or German - either as their native language or as a foreign language. We compute disenfranchisement rates that would result from using only the three procedural languages for all EU business, and marginal costs per disenfranchised person associated with providing translations and interpreting into the remaining 17 languages. The marginal costs are shown to vary substantially across the different languages, raising important questions about the economic efficiency of equal treatment for all languages. We argue that an efficient solution would be to decentralize the provision of translations.