5. Throughout the process leading to their adoption, draft acts shall be framed in terms and sentence structures which respect the multilingual nature of Community legislation; concepts or terminology specific to any one national legal system are to be used with care.
A person drafting a Community act of general application must always be aware that his text must satisfy the requirements of Council Regulation No 1, which requires the use of all the official languages in legal acts. That entails additional requirements beyond those which apply to the drafting of a national legislative text.
First, the original text must be particularly simple, clear and direct, since any over-complexity or ambiguity, however slight, could result in inaccuracies, approximations or real mistranslations in one or more of the other Community languages.
Elliptical turns of phrase or short cuts are to be avoided. It is a false economy to use them to convey a message so complex that an explanation is called for.
Overly complicated sentences, comprising several phrases, subordinate clauses or parentheses (interpolated clauses) are also to be avoided.
The grammatical relationship between the different parts of the sentence must be clear. There should be no doubt, for example, as to whether an object relates to the verb in the main clause or to that in a subordinate clause.
Jargon, certain vogue words and Latin expressions used in a sense other than their generally accepted legal meaning are also to be avoided.
Second, the use of expressions and phrases — in particular, but not exclusively, legal terms — too specific to the author’s own language or legal system, will increase the risk of translation problems.
Two points, in particular, must be borne in mind:
Certain expressions in one language — and in particular quite common ones such as the French ‘
sans préjudice’— have no equivalent in other Community languages. In those languages, they can therefore only be translated using circumlocutions and approximations, which inevitably result in semantic divergences between the various language versions. Expressions which are too specific to one language should therefore be avoided as far as possible.
As regards actual legal terminology, terms which are too closely linked to national legal systems should be avoided.
The aim is that, as far as possible, and taking account of the specific nature of Community law and its terminology, those called on to apply or interpret the act in each Member State (officials, judges, lawyers, etc.) must perceive it not as a ‘translation’ in a negative sense — but as a text which corresponds to a certain legislative style. Texts peppered with loan words, literal translations or jargon which are hard to understand are the source of much of the criticism of Community legislation which is, as a result, regarded as alien.
Finally, two essentially practical comments must be made as to the relationship between the original text and translations of it.
First, the author must ensure that translators can immediately identify the sources drawn on in the original text. If a passage in the original text has been taken from an existing text (Treaty, directive, regulation, etc.) that must be clear from the text or indicated separately, where necessary by appropriate electronic means (see Guideline 6). There is a risk that any hidden citations without a reference to the source will be translated freely in one or more languages, even though the author specifically intended to use the authentic wording of an existing provision.
Second, the author must realise that comments from translators and, more generally, all departments which carry out a linguistic check of the text can be extremely useful. Such checks provide an opportunity to identify any errors and ambiguities in the original text, even after a lengthy gestation period and even — perhaps especially — when the drafting has been the subject of much discussion between a number of people. The problems encountered may then be brought to the attention of the author. In many cases, the best solution will be to alter the original, rather than the translation.