Social transformations and economic integration have led to an overall internationalization of law, which is sometimes reflected in countries’ national languages. Despite not being part of the EU, Switzerland has close relations with the Union and is indirectly affected by its decisions and legislation. Bilateral agreements are the main instrument to implement EU legislation and since 1972, Switzerland and the EU have concluded around 20 main agreements and some 100 secondary agreements on different specific areas. In other words, without giving up its legal sovereignty and even as an outsider to the European institutional framework, Switzerland has integrated a great amount of EU law. This has led to a progressive Europeanization of its legislation (Amstutz 2005, De Rossa Gisimundo 2010, Grolimund and Vahl 2006, Jenni 2014, Lavenex 2009, Maiani 2008).

Drawing on this background and in the wake of recent linguistic studies on the “Eurolect” (Biel 2014, Mori 2018), CHEU-lex was created to study the impact of the above-mentioned bilateral agreements on the language of Swiss legislative texts, as well as the complex dynamics of translation and language contact in multilingual environments.

Swiss reception of EU law and language contact

The reception of EU law is documented by the Swiss Federal Chancellery in a dedicated webpage, consisting of tools, guidelines and advice on the drafting, terminological issues and reception techniques of EU law. The "Règles d’or de la mise en œuvre du droit de l’UE dans le droit suisse" (“Golden rules for the implementation of EU law in Swiss law”, henceforth “the Guideline”) published by the Linguistic Service of the Swiss Confederation, lists three different techniques for the reception of EU law: 1) reformulation, 2) literal reproduction, and 3) express reference. While the first one has the clear advantage of reformulating EU law in an easily understandable way for  Swiss citizens, the other two imply a clear and express reference to the EU legislation. When implementing EU law, Swiss authorities enjoy considerable discretion and may thus choose to transpose only selected parts of each EU legal act. The Guideline also outlines the pitfalls of EU multilingualism when it meets Swiss multilingualism and the translation procedures of the Confederation. When transposing EU legislation, Swiss drafters often refer to the EU German version and draft their own Swiss German version, which is later translated into French and Italian. However, since French and English are the two main working languages of the Union, Swiss drafters sometimes refer to those versions to check equivalence. Moreover, despite the fact that English and French (and, to a lesser extent, German) are used as procedural languages, authentication confers the status of “single original” to all the versions published in EU languages, thus blurring the notion of “original text”. The result is a multilingual legal ‘patchwork’ characterised by an unusual dynamic of language contact, where legal text production relies almost exclusively on translation.


Amstutz, M. (2005). Evolutorische Rechstsmethodik im europäischen Privatrecht – Zur richtlinienkonformen Auslegung und ihren Folgen für den autonomen Nachvollzug des Gemeinschaftsprivatrechts in der Schweiz. In Werro, F. and Probst, T. (Eds.), Le droit privé Suisse face au droit communautaire européen (pp. 105-144). Bern: Stampfli.

De Rossa Gisimundo, F. (2010). Interpretazione del diritto svizzero secondo il diritto europeo recepito autonomamente? RTiD, I-2010, 329 -356.

Grolimund, N. and M. Vahl. (2006). Integration Without Membership: Switzerland’s Bilateral Agreements with the European Union. Brus­sels: Centre for European Policy Studies.

Jenni, S. (2014). Europeanization of Swiss Law-Making: Empirics and Rhetoric are Drifting Apart. Swiss Political Science Review, 20(2): 208–215. doi:10.1111/spsr.12098

Lavenex, S. (2009). Switzerland’s Flexible Integration in the EU: A Conceptual Framework. Swiss Political Science Review, 15(4): 547–75. doi:10.1002/j.1662-6370.2009.tb00145.x

Maiani, F. (2008). Legal Europeanization as Legal Transformation: Some insights from Swiss “Outer Europe”. EUI Working Papers MWP No. 2008/32.

Swiss Federal Chanchellery. (2019). Règles d’or de la mise en œuvre du droit de l’UE dans le droit suisse. Bern: Swiss Confederation.