Several candidates sitting for an exam to become Maltese translators in the European Parliament were dismayed when they found out their computers would not allow them to access Maltese fonts and characters.

The candidates were taking the exam from home, and most of the ones who encountered the technical bug struggled to solve it.

Consequently, some of the candidates failed to complete the work in time and most are now fearing that their inability to write in Maltese characters will impact their final mark.

The exam was held on January 16 and was part of a competition – as it is known in Brussels – for the EU Parliament to recruit 12 new Maltese translators together with Bulgarian, French, Slovak and Swedish translators.

The prospective translators were asked to take the exam remotely, instead of going to a testing centre, and each candidate was asked to install a software on their personal computer provided by French company TestWE. 

The software would only work if candidates disabled all firewalls and anti-virus systems installed on their computers, to prevent cheating attempts.

But it appears that on some computers, the software also disabled a few keyboard characters – namely the Maltese letters Ħ, Ż, Ċ and Ġ. Several other candidates complained that the accent grave, which, in Maltese, typically falls on the last vowel of words like università (university), would also not work.

Not all the candidates encountered the technical bug but most of the ones who did have since filed official complaints to the European Parliament.

Given that this was an exam testing candidates’ ability to write in accurate Maltese grammar and spelling, the prospective translators feared they would fail. But the EU parliament has since assured them the bug will not impact their grade.

In replies to Times of Malta, the European Parliament Press Services said the selection board “conducted a thorough case-by-case analysis of candidates who met these technical issues and has taken steps in order to ensure these difficulties would not adversely affect the candidates”.

In addition, the parliament’s services are closely working with the service provider to minimise the possibility of a repeat in the future.

'Numerous technical bugs and system failures'

The EU parliament press office defended the remote exam system, saying it is organising its own exams to help the European Personnel Selection Office with the sufficient recruitment of talent. Since 2020, it has migrated its written tests online to cut down on the costly logistics of bringing all candidates from across Europe to centralised, physical test centres.

“Any candidate in the competition and selection procedures organised by the European Parliament has the right to signal to parliament’s services any difficulties experienced during a test.

“These difficulties were reported by some candidates immediately after the test.”

EU staff unions also complained about the “numerous technical bugs and system failures” and an “inefficient helpdesk system” during the competitions, describing it as “a discriminating exercise”. 

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba formally complained to the secretary general of the EU parliament about the issue, demanding an explanation as to “why the Maltese language is being treated as a second-rate language within the EU parliament”.

PN MEP candidate Peter Agius also looked into the issue, saying that Maltese people should defend their language in international fora.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us