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Interpretation of European Union Multilingual Law

International Journal of Baltic Law, No. 3, pp. 1-13, June 2005

9 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2008 Last revised: 24 Sep 2008

Tadas Klimas


Jurate Vaiciukaite

Council of the European Union

Date Written: June 1, 2005


The law of the European Union is iterated in over 20 languages (each version is equal, in principle, to any of the others). The article describes the caselaw involving discrepancies between the various language versions. As all these languages are official languages of the EU, the legal meaning of the texts in the various languages must in principle be the same. But this is problematic as legal terminology differs from country to country. The amount of variation depends not only on the country's legal system and legal traditions, but also on the uniqueness of the language of the country. This creates differences and discrepancies between and among the various language versions, and in turn raises questions of interpretation across the various official language versions of ostensibly the same text. In such cases, which language version should prevail? How should national courts solve the problem of interpretation of EU legal terminology between and among the EU's official languages?

The authors note that although the ECJ (European Court of Justice) has rejected reliance upon a metalanguage, nevertheless a metalanguage is being created.

The authors demonstrate that the ECJ has opted for what would, in linguistics, be termed a "deep structure" approach, or, in legal terminology, a 'multilingual' interpretative strategy which goes beyond the various language versions to seek for the true meaning of the act in question: the interpretative function of the court is to transcend the written texts. One could conclude that this has the rather perverse effect of rendering, de facto, none of the language versions authentic.

Keywords: European Union, Multilingual Law, Metalanguage

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Klimas, Tadas mname and Vaiciukaite, Jurate mname, Interpretation of European Union Multilingual Law (June 1, 2005). International Journal of Baltic Law, No. 3, pp. 1-13, June 2005. Available at SSRN:

Tadas Klimas (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Jurate Vaiciukaite

Council of the European Union ( email )

Rue de la Loi, 175
Brussels, 1048

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