Spotlight: EU Council Presidency and Multilinguality in COVID-19 pandemic

2020-06-02

From 1 January 2020, Croatia took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time – and for the first time, the presidency had to be run and managed under the impression of a world-wide pandemic. In line with the guidelines set by the Council’s New Strategic Agenda 2019–2024 and Croatian priorities and points of reference, in accordance with the Trio programme of Romania, Finland and Croatia and under the motto “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”, Croatia has prepared a six-month programme based on four priorities:

  • A Europe that is developing
  • A Europe that connects
  • A Europe that protects
  • An influential Europe

The Government of the Republic of Croatia launched as early as December 2019 an official Croatian Presidency Website https://www.eu2020.hr/ available in Croatian, English, French, German and Italian. The EU Council Presidency Translator, designed and developed by Tilde in close partnership with Croatia and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Zagreb, was introduced as well. This multilingual communication tool enabled delegates, journalists, translators, and visitors to instantly translate texts, documents, and websites between Croatian and English.

The existing statistics on the use of the EU Council Presidency Translator speak very much in favor of the great need for multilingual support and of the usefulness of MT tools: As can be seen in Figure 1 below, since February 2020, more than 1.5 Mio words were processed per month by the Croatian-English engine!

Figure 1: Croatian-English engine statistics – processed words

With regard to the English-Croatian translations that were undertaken with the help of the EU Council Presidency Translator, the numbers are even more impressive: Starting with almost 3 Mio. processed words in February 2020, the translation demand increased up to almost 7 Mio. processed words in May 2020 (see Figure 2 below)! Overall, the use of the English-Croatian language pair (17.5 Mio. processed words) is almost three times higher than the Croatian-English pair (6.2 Mio. processed words) which clearly underlines the user's needs for translation into Croatian.

Figure 2: English-Croatian engine statistics – processed words

On 3rd of March, another successful round table dedicated to Artificial intelligence in natural language processing was held as part of the presentation of the EU-funded project (i.e. the Project Establishment of an integrated system for managing official documentation of the Republic of Croatia). Experts from public administration, academic and business community involved in machine learning and translation, natural language processing and information retrieval emphasized the importance of language resources and joint action in this area. Unfortunately, ambitious plans were somewhat disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic that struck Croatia and the EU already in the first trimester of the Croatian Presidency. Croatia recognized early on the seriousness of the pandemic situation and as the country presiding over the Council of the EU, it organized a series of ministerial video conferences of EU Member States to exchange views in different areas, especially health care, and how to find appropriate solutions to all aspects of the crisis. Great attention was paid to the use of existing mechanisms at the EU level and further opportunities for improving communication and information exchange, in the context of dealing with the challenges posed by the spread of COVID-19 in the EU.

Mid-march 2020, the Croatian Government in cooperation with the Civil Protection of the Ministry of the Interior, the Croatian Institute of Public Health and the Ministry of Health launched the official website koronavirus.hr (in Croatian and English). The website is entirely dedicated to information on COVID-19 and news are published daily to prevent the spread of the pandemic. In order to enable interactive communication with citizens concerned over COVID-19, the Government has also launched VIBER/Whatsapp groups (in Croatian and English). A digital assistant chatbot ANDRIJA (via Whatsapp in Croatian) was designed. The main purpose of a conversation with Andrija is to unburden the Croatian health system by making a quick assessment in order to assume how likely the interlocutor is to have a corona virus and to give him useful instructions. Machine-readable data on COVID-19 are also published on the Open Data portal of the Republic of Croatia.