I was all set to attend a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels last Wednesday. The report on the Third Anti-Money Laundering Directive, about which I penned the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee's position, was scheduled to be discussed in the late afternoon. It was just a few hours before a certain football match I was eager to watch, the result and dynamics of which now totally escape me!

I prepared my speech in Maltese. It is actually the only chance we get of using our national language in Parliament because we are told there are not enough interpreters to cover the committee and political group meetings.

I was scheduled to speak third, following Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and the rapporteur for the Civil Liberties Committee, Hartmut Nassauer, with whom I forged a very good working relationship over the past months.

I stood up to deliver my speech. The following is the official transcript issued by the European Parliament:

"Joseph Muscat (PSE), rapporteur ta' opinjoni tal-Kumitat ghall-Affarijiet Ekonomici u Monetarji.

"Dan huwa rapport dwar Direttiva li ghall-ewwel darba titkellem b'mod dirett dwar il-kuncett tal-finanzjament tat-terrorizmu, b'mod distint mill-hasil tal-flus. Fil-fatt qed nitkellmu dwar zewg processi totalment differenti. Il-hasil tal-flus (il-kelliem ikompli bl-Ingliz)..."

"Joseph Muscat (PSE) No translation! [well, I should have said translation but at that point I was seeing red]. That is what we get when we are told that Maltese is an official language of the European Union! So there are no interpreters here; we have no interpreters in committee; we have no translations of documents and now we are not even able to speak our language in plenary. I am not going to continue to deliver my speech, Mr President. No way. You should take the necessary action on this. What is the use of having it down on paper that Maltese is an official language?

"I thank the Commission and the Council; I thank Mr Nassauer for his sterling work on the report but either give us our language or it is thank you and goodbye."

I think I am a practical person. I do understand there are constraints and practical difficulties in having a full interpretation and translation service into Maltese. My colleagues and I are being very patient and understanding. We know that for the time being it is impossible for the EU to provide Maltese interpretation during committee and group meetings. We tolerate the fact that not all documents can be translated, even though the specialised industry claims they have excess capacity. Nevertheless, the fact that we do not get the choice to speak our national language in plenary, which is the backbone of the European Parliament, is simply inadmissible.

That is why I refused to deliver my speech and left the hemicycle. I was told that the colleagues who spoke after me, notably Internal Market Committee chairman Philip Whitehead, endorsed my protest and said that such shortcomings are intolerable.

The Maltese interpreters contracted by the European Parliament are doing an excellent job and have nothing to do with this shortcoming. Some time ago, my colleague, Louis Grech, had faced a similar problem about which he was alerted only a few hours before delivering his speech.

The EU has recognised Maltese as one of its official languages. But this recognition cannot remain just on paper. They are in duty bound to provide and pay for this service out of EU coffers. If they think they are taking us for a ride, they are very wrong.

A few weeks ago, the European Parliament even failed to produce a Maltese version of a Council Regulation under the co-decision procedure. There is a temporary derogation that provides that for a period of three years the EU institutions are not bound to draft all acts into Maltese. At the end of these three years, the EU should be able to deliver a full translation service. Nevertheless, during these three years, the EU is obliged to translate Council Regulations under the co-decision procedure.

I am informed that the Maltese government protested against this shortcoming. As soon as I became aware of this, I wrote officially to the Secretary General of the European Parliament protesting against this attitude.

We are in duty bound to keep up the pressure.

Mr Muscat is a Labour member of the European Parliament.


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