Understanding terminology, i.e. the specialised vocabulary that is used in a specific domain, is a key element in communication. No matter how much you try to say it simple, there will always be cases where an exact technical term says it best. This is especially true – and challenging – in the case of translation: not only is it necessary to understand a text – its exact meaning also has to be reproduced as faithfully as possible in another language. It is thus not surprising that the EU's translation services – who work today in 23 official languages - have always dedicated a lot of attention to the collection and organisation of terminology. Each service has done so according to their needs and possibilities. The availability of powerful IT system led, for example, to the creation of the Eurodicautom database of the European Commission and the Council’s Terminology Information System (TIS) that were both accessible on the internet. However, it also became clear that there was a strong need to coordinate and channel the efforts the different services.

In 1999 the European Union's translation services [1] engaged in a rather ambitious endeavour: the "Inter-Active Terminology for Europe" (IATE). The project was initially launched by the Translation Centre who always played a key role in the project and who is today managing the technical aspects of the project on behalf of the project partners.

The objective of the project was to create a single terminology database for all EU institutions and agencies. In the process all existing terminology resources were to be merged; IATE would be web-based and fully inter-active; it would permit the EU's linguistic staff to participate in the creation and maintenance of terminology, thus making relevant terminology available faster. Finally, by allowing for cooperation and coordination between the EU's services, IATE would reduce duplication of effort and make terminology work more efficient.

Since summer 2004 IATE has been used in the EU’s translation services.  Translators and terminologists consult the database. They add about 200 terms and modify and validate around 250 daily. Today IATE contains roughly 8 million terms.  IATE has 8.4 million terms, including approximately 540 000 abbreviations and 130 000 phrases, and covers all 23 official EU languages.

It had always been one of the objectives of the project to share this wealth of information with the public. The official opening of the IATE database on 28 June 2007 was the last step in a long development process that aimed to provide citizens with a simple, easy-to-use tool that will help them to better understand terminology in the 23 official languages of the Community.