EU court ruling removes special treatment for specific more widely-spoken European languages
Last week (24/9/2015) the General Court of the European Union handed down its Judgment in Cases T-124/13 Italy v Commission and T-191/13 Spain v Commission.
This ruling annuls 3 competition notices to recruit personnel published by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) which required candidates for the EU jobs it was advertising to choose English, French or German as their second language and as the language of communication with EPSO.
Candidates needed to have 1 official EU language plus ‘satisfactory knowledge’ of a second language to be chosen by each candidate from English, French or German’. That second language would be used in communications with EPSO and in the selection procedure itself. EPSO asserted that these restrictions on the number of languages were justified to promote greater efficiency in day-to-day work, otherwise with an excessive range of EU languages effective functioning of the EU institutions would be impaired.
Italy and Spain, whose languages didn’t receive ‘preferential’ treatment complained to the General Court. They essentially argued that the EPSO notices discriminated against them, infringed the EU’s language regime contained in Regulation No 1 of 1958 and disregarded the principle of proportionality. Italy argued that European citizens have the right to address the EU Institutions using any one of the official languages, and that they have the right to receive answers from the Institutions in the same language. Spain added that in practice, that restriction on languages provided all candidates whose first language is one of the three languages mentioned above with a competitive advantage.
The General Court’s judgment has now annulled the 3 notices. The court argued that even if the Institutions can adopt details rules governing the language regime in their internal rules, the Institutions concerned by the contested notices did not use that option. Competition notices cannot be regarded as internal rules. The notices fell within the scope of Regulation No 1 and infringe it because they limit correspondence with EPSO to the three languages mentioned. That is sufficient in itself to justify the 3 notices being annulled, without there being any need to examine whether they give rise to unlawful discrimination on grounds of language.
Candidates are entitled to choose the language in which to draft the application form from any of the official languages and that correspondence from EPSO must also be written in the language chosen by candidates.
The General Court also said in relation to the use of a small number of languages for the competition itself constitutes discrimination on grounds of language. It is clear that such a requirement favours certain potential candidates since they can participate in the competition and be recruited as EU officials, whereas the others who do not have such knowledge are excluded.
According to the General Court, the claim that English, French or German remain the most widely used languages is a vague statement not supported by any specific evidence. In its view the obligation for candidates to choose English, French or German as a second language is not objectively justified or proportionate to the objective pursued by the Commission, namely to recruit officials and agents who are immediately operational.
… an interesting judgment that seems to confirm the existing EU principle that all official languages within the Union are of equal importance, no matter how few speakers they have.
The judgment is not yet available in Greek or English.