Latest developments and remaining challenges
More than two years since Covid-related restrictions were first introduced, DG SCIC interpreters continue to grapple with the consequences for their profession. During this time, the main challenges have been the widespread use of unreliable video conferencing platforms, reduced staffing levels in the booths and a precipitous decline in demand as delegates stayed away from Brussels and meetings were held in English only.
The latter problem has been solved in part with the arrival of the French presidency (PFEU) and its eagerness to return to as many in-person meetings as possible. Demand among Commission DGs, on the other hand, has remained stubbornly low and presidency demand may taper off as we head into the French election campaign. The spring also seems likely to herald a general lifting of social distancing rules, first in Luxembourg and then in Belgium, at a time when case numbers are rising. So far, the Commission has been more cautious but that may change. Given the confined space of interpreting booths, steps to abolish social distancing have the potential to stoke social conflict if not handled with due sensitivity.
Finally, a small but growing number of interpreters working at the EU, the UN and elsewhere, have reported hearing problems in recent months, presumably caused by the toxic sound pumped out by platform interpreting systems. We say presumably because, believe it or not, hearing tests have never been part of interpreters’ annual medical check-ups so there’s no baseline. Moreover, given management’s mantra that “online meetings are here to stay”, they have firmly resisted the implications that would follow from any recognition that poor quality sound could represent an occupational health risk to our colleagues.