The Great enlargement banner
20 years ago, on 1 May 2004, a special event marked the history of Europe: the fifth enlargement. Ten new countries joined the EU: Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This event, known as the ‘Big Bang’, is the biggest enlargement in terms of people and number of countries, as well as new languages, with the number of official EU languages growing from 14 to 24.

This expansion was not merely about numbers; the ten countries brought with them a diversity of languages, enriching the linguistic landscape of the EU. One of the EU’s founding principles is multilingualism, meaning that any EU citizen can communicate in their own language. The EU’s official languages are set out in a regulation, which is amended after each accession to add the new official languages, and provides that all official languages enjoy equal status. This policy aims to protect Europe’s rich linguistic diversity and promote language learning in Europe. Therefore, the accession of these countries led to the automatic official recognition of their national languages, expanding the number of EU’s official languages from 14 to 24, resulting in a total of 552 possible language combinations for translation.

After this new enlargement, the Translation Centre, whose activities started in 1995, saw 9 years later how its activities were also influenced by these changes, and adapted accordingly as living proof of its commitment to multilingualism. In accordance with the principle of linguistic equality, the Centre faced the task of recruiting translators for the new language groups and assisting EU bodies in meeting their linguistic demands. Consequently, many language professionals from the new EU Member States joined the Translation Centre, significantly diversifying our workforce.

Moreover, the accession to the EU of the ten new members led to their increased participation in EU initiatives and institutions, with several agencies now headquartered in these countries: the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) in Slovenia, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) in Latvia, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) in Malta, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) in Lithuania, the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) in Hungary, the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (eu-LISA) in Estonia, the European Border and the Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in Poland and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) in Czechia – agencies that now have cooperation agreements with the Translation Centre for language services.

The Translation Centre’s Director at the time, Marie-Anne Fernández Suárez, said that the 2004 EU enlargement was one of the most important events in her career: ‘It brought not only the number of EU languages from 11 to 20, but also a lot of new experience and expertise, and with it very competent and nice colleagues,’ she recalled in an interview conducted in 2015.

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ‘Big Bang’ enlargement, we celebrate the progress made in promoting multilingualism and cultural diversity in the European Union and our efforts in providing language services to the EU agencies, institutions and bodies to foster effective multilingual communication.