Today the European Commission is proposing to slash red tape for citizens and businesses by doing away with bureaucratic rubber-stamping exercises currently required to get public documents like your birth certificate recognised as authentic in another EU Member State. Currently, citizens who move to another Member State have to spend a lot of time and money in order to demonstrate that their public documents (such as birth or marriage certificates) issued by their Member State of origin are authentic. This involves the so-called 'Apostille' certificate which is used by public authorities in other states as proof that public documents, or the signatures of national officials on documents, are genuine. Businesses operating across EU borders in the EU’s Single Market are also affected. For instance, they will often be required to produce a number of certified public documents in order to prove their legal status when operating cross-border. These requirements date from an era when countries would only trust a public document if it came from the foreign office of another country. However, just as we trust in each other's court judgements, we should be able to trust a Member State's Registry Office issuing birth certificates, without needing their foreign office, justice ministry, or other authorities to vouch for them. Today, the European Commission is therefore proposing to scrap the 'Apostille' stamp and a further series of arcane administrative requirements for certifying public documents for people living and working in other Member States.
“Every time you cross a border, you don't have to get your foreign office to confirm that your passport really is a passport – why should you have to do so for a birth certificate?” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “When you move abroad, having to go through these costly formalities in order to establish that your birth certificate is indeed a birth certificate or simply to make use of a company certificate creates a bureaucratic headache. I have heard countless stories about the hassle involved in satisfying these incomprehensible requirements. Today, the Commission is acting to simplify people's and companies’ lives when they exercise their free movement rights in the EU.”
Under the Commission’s proposals, adopted today, citizens and businesses would no longer have to provide costly 'legalised' versions or 'certified' translations of official documents when, for example, registering a house or company, getting married, or requesting a residence card. Twelve categories of public documents1 would automatically be exempted from formalities such as 'Apostille' and 'legalisation' – which are currently required for around 1.4 million documents within the EU each year. Abolishing these requirements will save citizens and businesses in the EU up to 330 million euro, not counting the saved time and inconvenience that is avoided.
The new rules will not, however, have any impact on the recognition of the content or the effects of the documents concerned. The new rules will only help prove the authenticity of the public document, for example whether a signature is authentic and the capacity in which the public office holder is signing. This will have to be mutually accepted between Member States without any additional certification requirements.
The Commission is also proposing a further simplification tool: optional multilingual standardised forms in all EU official languages that citizens and businesses could request instead of and under the same conditions as national public documents concerning birth, death, marriage, registered partnership and legal status and representation of a company or other undertaking (see Annex for examples). This would particularly help to save on translation costs, since the attraction of such an option is that it frees citizens and businesses from having to worry about translations. The design of these forms has taken inspiration from specific international conventions2.
The proposal also provides for safeguards against fraud. If a national authority has reasonable doubt about a particular document, Member States will be able to check its authenticity with the issuing authorities through the existing Internal Market Information System (IMI).
According to a Eurobarometer survey in October 2010, 73% of Europeans believe that measures should be taken to improve the circulation of public documents between EU countries.
In response, in 2010, the European Commission published a Green Paper on promoting the free movement of public documents, and held a public consultation on the possible means to facilitate the use and acceptance of public documents.
The European Commission is working hard to remove all obstacles frustrating citizens. The EU Citizenship Report 2010 (see IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525) outlined 25 concrete actions to tear down remaining barriers EU citizens face when exercising their right to free movement in the EU. With today's proposal the Commission is delivering on its commitment.
In 2012, the Commission held a broad public consultation asking citizens what problems they have encountered in exercising their rights as EU citizens (see IP/12/461). The process of having a document accepted as authentic in another Member States was one of the issues brought up by citizens.
Real life example of problems faced by EU citizens
"I recently got married in Luxembourg but the procedure for the recognition of my birth certificate was very long and expensive. It is based on an expensive 'apostille' system. The system might be useful at world level, but in the EU it is a painful way of proving the lack of cooperation and trust between administrations."
- a Romanian citizen, responding to the 2012 public consultation on EU citizens' rights.
The new rules will simplify formalities by:
Abolishing the formalities of 'legalisation' and 'Apostille';
Doing away with the need to present a certified copy together with the original public document and, instead, allow for non-certified copies to be presented together with the originals;
Ensuring that non-certified translations of public documents issued by the authorities of other Member States are accepted.
Providing optional multilingual EU standard forms.
Improving administrative cooperation between the Member States to help fight against fraud.
Next steps: To become law the proposed Regulation will now have to be adopted by he European Parliament and the Council of Ministers using the "ordinary legislative procedure" (co-decision). In addition, during the 2013 European Year of Citizens, on 8 May 2013, the Commission will publish a second EU citizenship report, outlining 12 new concrete actions to address remaining problems that EU citizens still face when exercising their free movement rights.
For more information
European Commission – civil justice policy:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU