In a Financial Times article still online, the EU Savings Directive comes in for some criticism, particularly in connection with its having been translated into French and back again.
Council Directive 2003/48/EC of 3 June 2003 on taxation of savings income in the form of interest payments
Richtlinie 2003/48/EG des Rates vom 3. Juni 2003 im Bereich der Besteuerung von Zinserträgen
The directive was intended to tax EU citizens’ offshore savings, but after it was agreed with all 25 EU member states and with non-members (Switzerland, Liechtenstein), it had so many loopholes that not much tax will be collected.
bq. EU officials speak of “appalling” translation errors as the English version of the text was rendered into French and then back into English. Loopholes were inserted, including the glaring exemption from the tax of trusts and foundations. “The amount raised from withholding taxes in these offshore centres is tiny, but not surprising,” admits one EU official.
Rather like the typist’s error known to law firms, it seems to me that the translator’s error means a drafting choice.
Some details from William Robinson’s article:
the first draft is written by the relevant technical department and must be in either English or French, which is not the native language of most of the drafters, who may also have little drafting experience and are inclined for both reasons to follow precedents uncritically
it is then examined by lawyers – I don’t know if these revisers are called lawyer-linguists, but William Robinson was a translator and is a reviser now. Problems are short deadlines and possible deference to the original department. Sometimes a team of editors in the Translation Directorate-General is consulted, but not always
the text is translated into all the official languages – it may be a complete mess at this stage – correction by legal revisers is again possible, but only to a limited extent:
bq. Since the text has passed through extensive consultations, is often the fruit of difficult compromises, has been translated into all the official languages and is to be adopted in a matter of days, the revisers must confine themselves to correcting formal or terminological errors and ensuring that the legal scope is exactly the same in the different language versions.
Ian Frame (same edition of Clarity) says that the European Parliament’s ‘legal revisers’ are the Council’s ‘jurist-linguists’.
Thanks to Robin Bonthrone (on the finanztrans mailing list at Yahoo)