According to Umberto Eco, the language of Europe is translation.

An adage that echoes within the EU through its motto ‘In varietate concordia’.

This has never been more true since the recent case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on competitions and language arrangements.

Indeed, a series of appeals brought by Spain and Italy against the European Commission have just been upheld on appeal by the Court.

The question raised was whether certain languages (English, French and German) could be used exclusively in certain phases of recruitment procedures to the detriment of other EU languages, provided that this was justified by the interest of the service in being able to rely on staff able to express themselves in the usual languages of the service concerned by recruitment.

An approach defended by the Commission and therefore contested by the countries in question.

In this context, it should be noted that, for both officials and other servants, recruitment relates to a series of criteria such as the specific profile sought, the relevant professional skills and also the language skills of the candidates.

Those considerations, applied outside all national quotas, leave the institutions a considerable and necessary margin of manoeuvre and it is the latter which refers to the judgments in question in the linguistic dimension.

This is because as early as September 2020 (T 437/16, Italy v Commission, and in Joined Cases 401/16 Spain v Commission and 443/16 Italy v Commission), the General Court of the CJEU annulled three notices of competition relating to the recruitment of specialists to fill posts within the EU institutions.

In order to do so, the General Court’s reasoning is divided into two stages:


  • Firstly, it was considered discriminatory to indicate only English, French or German as a second language in which to sit certain tests and as a language of communication with EPSO during the tests;


  • Secondly, it appears that there was no evidence of the existence of an interest of the service capable of justifying such discrimination.


Accordingly, the Commission decided to appeal that judgment of the General Court. However, the Court confirmed its position in a series of judgments delivered at the beginning of the year.

In the future, possible language restrictions affecting certain stages of recruitment seem even less likely, as they will be difficult to justify.

TAO welcomes this case-law, which is in conformity with the fundamental principle of non-discrimination on grounds of language as stated in the Staff Regulations.  This decision is fully compatible with the need for certain profiles and needs of the service to have a specific knowledge of one or other language, when duly justified in an objective and reasonable manner, where in some cases,  the Commission has failed to do.