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[Note: this web site is done in a purely private capacity and should in no way be construed as the official position of any institution - and this page hasn't been updated in years :-)]

Europe

has always played a very central part in my life. I had the opportunity to travel widely, and to live in many places, both within and outside Europe, which is the best way to learn to love it. It also fed me and my family (and still does), which is always nice :-).
It has for a while, since before becoming a civil servant at the Court of Justice in Luxemburg, I was working as a free-lance for the Commission in Bruxelles. I currently work for the Commission .
I really believe that Europe is the best way out of our present problems. The idea is terrific, but as usual, it's the implementation which isn't up to what many people expected. But on the whole, I believe the process deserves a big thumb up, since it has prevented war in Europe for many years. That alone is -imnsho-, invaluable.
You'll find below some information I put together a while ago. Part of it is most likely obsolete by now (mostly the figures).

The Institutions

There are 5 European Institutions:

The Court of Justice plays a role similar to the US Supreme Court.
Not legally a European Institution, but the financial arm of the Union:
- The European Central Bank, based in Franfurt (Germany)

The linguistic regime

The Court of Auditors is the only Institution which officially works only in French and English.
ALL the other Institutions work in ALL the (27) official languages of the Union.
The Court of Justice uses French as internal working language.
As far as the other Institutions are concerned, the linguistic regime of each meeting is determined by the combinations requested by the participants. While in practice it is true that many technical meetings of the Commission are limited to French, German and English, it is by no means mandatory, nor the rule for that matter.

Those of you who know Europe a bit will be surprized at the 22 languages.
Indeed, there are 27 official languages currently in use in the Union. The explanation is simple: at the time of its adhesion, Ireland (two official languages: English and Gaelic) decided that it would not use Gaelic in its contacts with the Union, mostly because it is not possible to find enough translators and interpreters working to and from Gaelic.

However, Gaelic is an official language of the Union, which means that a translation of the Treaties and of all primary law is available in this language as well. They could also be used in Court (and in fact have been).

A final note: I am talking here about OFFICIAL languages.
This notion is often misunderstood.
Indeed, there are about 6 millions of people speaking Catalan which is not [note: or wasn't when this was written] an official language of the Union, as opposed to 5 millions of people speaking Danish, which is an official language (or Maltese, with less than 400.000).
This is simply due to the fact that the definition of "official language" is left to the Member States themselves.
If a language is "official language" in a MS, it is de jure and de facto official language of the Union.
Many languages, while widely spoken in some MS (case in point: Catala, spoken in Spain and France) do not enjoy that official recognition. Catala is a "national" language of Spain, and has official status in the autonomous region of Catalunya only, not in the whole of Spain (This is changing at the time of this writing, 2007, but was certainly the case when Spain joined in 1986).
Similarly, Luxemburguese is a "national" language in Luxembourg, not the "official" language of the country.

Other sources of information

Of course, since then the Commission has opened various internet sites ( Europa, OP Portal , etc) but I still believe Joe Public is not very well informed about what is going on, and the Media are largely to blame for this.