The European Commission has called for the 112, the common European emergency number, to become multilingual.

Since December 2008, EU citizens can contact emergency services from anywhere in the European Union by dialing 112, the EU-wide emergency number, free of charge from both fixed and mobile phones.

However, research shows that only one in four Europeans knows that this life-saving number exists in other Member States. One in three citizens to call 112 in other countries say they have encountered language problems.

The Commission last week announced it will push national authorities to make the EU’s single emergency number more multilingual.

"The European emergency number should no longer be Europe’s best kept secret. We have a single emergency number, 112, that works for every emergency and every Member State and every citizen that needs it. But it is unacceptable that less than a quarter of citizens are aware of 112, or that language barriers prevent travellers calling 112 from communicating with the emergency operator," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.

The Commissioner added: "The EU must work to guarantee the safety of our 500 million citizens with the same intensity as we have worked to guarantee their ability to travel freely across the borders of 27 countries."

An EU-wide survey conducted for the European Commission shows that 94% of EU citizens think it is useful to have a single emergency number available in the EU. The Eurobarometer survey published

Only 24% of surveyed Europeans could identify 112 as the number on which they can call emergency services anywhere in the EU. Knowledge of the EU’s emergency number varies greatly between countries, from 3% in Italy to 58% in the Czech Republic.

Some countries make strenuous efforts to alert citizens and visitors about the 112 emergency number, visitors to Bulgaria receive a welcome text message informing them about 112.

The 112 number is also publicised on motorways and toll gates in Austria, Greece and Spain and at train stations and airports in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Greece and the Netherlands, among others.

To ensure that 112 is known all over Europe, the European Commission, together with the European Parliament and Council, have declared 11 February ‘European 112 Day’.