Metsola, Abela spar in tit-for-tat on interpreters shortage

Roberta Metsola wrote to the Prime Minister over lack of interpreters at European Parliament in February • OPM rebuffs Metsola's claims, cites EU interpreter work conditions as challenge that could be influencing the situation

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola

A spokesperson for the European Parliament President has claimed Prime Minister Robert Abela did not reply back to letters sent by Robert Metsola over the lack of Maltese interpreters at the institution.

The spokesperson said the issue had been raised “a number of times” by EP President Roberta Metsola. The lack of Maltese interpreters has been an ongoing issue since Malta’s accession into the European Union in 2004.

The spokesperson mentioned that for the European Parliament's plenary sessions, three teams of Maltese interpreters are assigned, while two teams are allocated for group and committee meetings. Apart from participating in parliamentary sessions held in Strasbourg and Brussels, MEPs engage in committee sessions and conduct press conferences at the European Parliament. EU regulations mandate instant translation services for all 24 official languages of member states during these events.

Additionally, the parliament's regulations affirm the right of all members to address Parliament in their preferred official language.

The issue was raised by Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer earlier this week, who slammed Roberta Metsola over her failure to ensure translation of Maltese speeches in the parliament during the next five years.

As he took to Facebook, Engerer explained that during the present EP term, Maltese speeches were translated during every meeting held by the institution.

"Despite having a Maltese President of the European Parliament, unfortunately in a meeting chaired by the president herself, it was agreed that during the next term, Maltese will not be one of the languages interpreted in all other languages," Engerer said.

A letter dated 8 February, seen by this newspaper, shows Metsola telling Abela the European Parliament is ready to "enhance cooperation" between the European Parliament and the Maltese government to "find sustainable ways to increase the availability of Maltese persons trained in interpretation and translation".

"Only in this way can MEPs express themselves well during their mandate and can citizens hear and read the democratic process in their language," Metsola says.

Metsola emphasised the severe shortage of interpreters and translators in Malta, noting that no Maltese interpreter has been hired since 2015, despite a collaboration initiative between the EP and the University of Malta.

Abela, however, neither acknowledged nor responded to the letter, according to the spokesperson.

Metsola should not put her own shortcomings on the Government: OPM

Replying to MaltaToday, a spokesperson for OPM said the President of the European Parliament should not put her own shortcomings on the Government.

“That is why she wrote the letter – as she is incapable of owning up to her decisions, taking initiative and leading change,” the spokesperson added.

On the matter, Government said the work conditions being offered to interpreters by EU institutions, including the European Parliament, could be one of the challenges that is directly influencing the situation.

“In fact, rather than it being an issue of availability of interpreters, it is more about the contractual conditions with which interpreters are being engaged by Parliament,” the spokesperson said.

OPM further explained that interpreters are being engaged as freelancers by the European Parliament and not being allocated enough work by the European Parliament to make it feasible for them.

“This has in turn created difficulties for them to pursue a career at the European Parliament, despite their commitment to their work.”

The Prime Minister notes that the President of the European Parliament has given up on the matter and has shifted the responsibility to the Maltese Authorities.

“Whilst the Prime Minister is yet to reply to the President, the spokesperson said, “the Government will continue to take initiatives to strengthen the Maltese language both at home and in international institutions.”

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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