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The European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation


04 September 2014

In October 2013, over 25 professionals outlined what would become the European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation (ENPSIT). So, what do they want to accomplish? What urged them to do that? What are they actually doing? Founding member Pascal Rillof tells all. 

Public service interpreting and translation, also referred to as “community interpreting” in the United States, can generally be defined as interpreting and translation services that make it possible for individuals and communities to access public services who do not speak the language the service is provided in.

European Union (EU) member state authorities do not structurally embed public service interpreter and translator training, certification, and provision into their policies. Public service interpreting and translation (PSIT) are usually not funded, or if they are, only through insecure project funds. Now, however, the EU is starting to listen to what ENPSIT has to say. But influencing EU policy is a complex business. Since PSIT is present in so many policy domains, there is no single European Commission ‘desk’ to talk to.

On the other hand: before the existence of ENPSIT, the European Commission had no central group of stakeholders to speak to on PSIT related matters. Moreover, they have no figures or facts to work from when developing policies related to providing language services in public service settings. Consequently, fact-finding should be integrated into a policy-sustaining fact file on the subject. This is where ENPSIT must play an essential role.

The changed nature of migration and need for PSIT

Since 1990, the nature of migration has changed. Europe has become ‘super-diverse’, a neologism for the rapidly changing constellation of Europe’s population. No longer do we only see an influx of the ‘classical’ groups of immigrant workers and their families in EU Member States and their main cities. Now people come from everywhere.1 They are pushed by meager subsistence and success prospects, environmental decay, disaster and conflict. They migrate, pulled by the hope of better lives for themselves and their children.

Our major cities are rapidly becoming places without distinct ethnic and language majorities. Integration programs and processes that do not take these phenomena of super-diversity and multilingualism into account are doomed to fail. Since integration is a two-way process, the receiving side must organize to ensure everyone’s access to human rights, so that newcomers can participate and consequently enjoy their rights and fulfill their duties.

Access to these rights is guaranteed through service provision that is organized and funded by governments. When language creates a communication gap, measures need to be taken to close that gap. Public service interpreting and translation do just that. And by doing so, they help stable democracies to persist.

PSIT is important to democracy

A democracy is not merely the end point of a process that started in the past and now has reached its fulfillment. Genuine democracies are themselves continuing processes of democratization. The process of democratization unlocks society and its public facilities or ‘goods’ to an ever-increasing number of people. Thus, democracies are not only about free elections or freedom of speech. Through (co)organizing and (co)funding public and social service provision, democratic governments ensure access to fundamental rights. Schools, health care, employment agencies, social welfare organizations, youth care programs, etc. are in that respect human rights ‘in the flesh’; human rights concretized and brought to the public.

Since yesterday’s world has vanished in favor of today’s globalized, super-diverse, and multilingual one, public and social services in democratic societies must also open up to the new residents of our increasingly complex social constellations. Making sure that service providers can communicate with all their clients is the first necessary step towards apt service provision. Service provision for everyone implies communication with everyone.2

From a European Network to the European Network for PSIT (ENPSIT) 

In October 2013, twenty-five stakeholder organizations met at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels to discuss what needed to be done to help prepare clear policy at both Member State and Commission levels and how to (further) professionalize PSIT service provision and its practitioners in Europe. Surely, the EU could play a significant part in establishing clear EU standards and practices for training, testing, and accreditation.

Only one of the PSIT domains is regulated by an EU Directive today: the Directive 2010/64/EU on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.

On 2 April 2014, the informal network decided to move forward to become a formal and structured organization – ENPSIT – so that, while engaging in a dialogue with the EU and Member State policy makers, necessary actions can be prepared and carried out efficiently.

Now, in August 2014, ENSPIT has grown from twenty-five to eighty-five members.

ENPSIT’s objectives

The objectives are drawn from ENPSIT’s Constitution, which was recently approved by members on 2 April 2014 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain.

ENPSIT takes within its scope the domain of interpreting and translation for public services in its broadest sense, involving spoken, written, or sign languages, in settings or sectors of inter alia social services, health care, the judiciary, police, education, welfare, child and youth care, asylum and refugee procedures, and victim support services.

ENPSIT is committed to the advancement of Public Service Interpreting and Translation. It fulfills its mandate by:

  • Promoting the establishment of standards that guide the practice of PSIT;
  • Encouraging and sharing research in the field of PSIT;
  • Advancing educational and training provisions and requirements for PSIT;
  • Gaining the support of the European Commission for the provision of funding of PSIT and PSIT-related activities including training, accreditation, and working conditions;
  • Advocating the provision of professional interpreting and translation services in PSIT settings;
  • Liaising with organizations and service providers on issues of relevance to PSIT;
  • Encouraging the development of local, regional, national, European, and international networks of public service interpreters, translators, providers, trainers, testers, researchers, and their organizations or associations.

ENPSIT organizes to influence EU and national policy. In this vein it recommends:

  • Recognition of PSIT as a necessary tool for an EU integration policy that stands for equal rights and treatment, equal opportunities, and diversity.
  • Guaranteeing the right to qualitative language assistance in a social context, including public service provision, in all EU member states. This right must evolve from a right in principle to a legally enforceable right.
  • Implementation of a quality standard for PSIT in the EU.
  • Recognition and funding of PSIT services by EU institutions, EU member states, regional and local authorities, and public service institutions.
  • Support of consultation and partnership structures at various levels: international, EU, National, and regional.

ENPSIT’s Action Plan

ENSPIT envisages nine actions or projects; some are in progress and others will be launched in October 2014.
These actions are in progress:

  • ENPSIT is to further structure itself as an efficient organization with a clear structure and transparent communication lines.
  • Setting up a secretariat.
  • Development of effective networking strategies and lines.
  • Development of a data collection research program in EU Member States.

The research program is nearly ready to be launched. The research inventory, or skeleton, will become available to members in October 2014. Consequently, from October onwards, data on PSIT in Europe will be gradually collected and put into the appropriate digital ‘shelves’, such as ‘country’, ‘training’, ‘accreditation’, ‘number of interpreting interventions’, ‘cost of translations’, ‘nature of service provision’, ‘indicators of needs’, etc.

Thus, the following actions are to be launched in the second half of 2014:

  • Carry out a data collection research program in EU Member States (cf supra);
  • Construe and write an integrated policy support case file for the European Commission and Member State Governments on PSIT;
  • Develop a professional PSIT competency profile and standard for the EU;
  • Develop and exchange adequate PSIT training, assessment, and accreditation programs in EU Member States (one integrated program or a harmonized set of programs).
  • Establish adequate PSIT training, testing, and accreditation programs in EU Member States (one integrated program or a harmonized set of programs)

ENPSIT does not intend to reinvent the wheel. Where adequate resources exist, cross-fertilization between different countries and institutions is preferred to create something Europe-wide.

ENPSIT already has a close relationship with the global organization for public service interpreting and translation (also referred to as community interpreting and translation), Critical Link International (CLI). ENPSIT will carry out its aforementioned research program in close collaboration with CLI’s research division.

How to Reach or Join ENPSIT 

If you would like to learn more, get in touch, or become a member, please go to http://www.enpsit.eu or [email protected].

ENPSIT is open to individual and institutional members from the EU and elsewhere.

ENPSIT would also like to draw your attention to the global Critical Link International website: http://www.criticallink.org.

Feel free to share your interest, questions, and thoughts with ENPSIT and Critical Link International.

Pascal Rillof is president of the European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation and a member of the Critical Link International board of directors and its European representative. He also is the public service interpreting and translation policy and sector coordinator for Flanders, Belgium, at the Kruispunt Migratie-Integratie (Junction Migration-Integration). Previously, he coordinated the Antwerp City Interpretation and Translation Service and was a member of the board of the Belgian Federal Consultative Body for Community Interpreting and Translation (“Cofetis”). He has a Master’s in Translation Studies.

Vertovec, Steven. Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29 (6): 1024-54. Taylor and Francis, 2007. Excerpt for abstract: “Diversity in Britain is not what it used to be. Some thirty years of government policies, social service practices and public perceptions have been framed by a particular understanding of immigration and multicultural diversity. That is, Britain's immigrant and ethnic minority population has conventionally been characterized by large, well-organized African-Caribbean and South Asian communities of citizens originally from Commonwealth countries or formerly colonial territories. […] Britain can now be characterized by ‘super-diversity,’ a notion intended to underline a level and kind of complexity surpassing anything the country has previously experienced. Such a condition is distinguished by a dynamic interplay of variables among an increased number of new, small and scattered, multiple-origin, transnationally connected, socio-economically differentiated and legally stratified immigrants who have arrived over the last decade.”

Rillof, Pascal, Van Praet, Ellen and De Wilde, July. The Communication Matrix. Beating Babel: Coping with Multilingual Service Encounters. In; (Re)considerando Ética e ideología en situaciones de conflicto. English: (Re)visiting ethics and ideology in situations of conflict. Carmen Valero Garcés (ed.). Obras colectivas Humanidades 39, UAH Universidad de Alcalá, Fitispos, 2014, p 263-269: 264.