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Strasbourg, 14 December 2010

Less bureaucracy for citizens: European Commission wants public documents – birth certificates, property deeds – to be more easily recognised abroad

Europeans who live outside their home countries are often confronted with bureaucratic hurdles: waiting for an official stamp on a court ruling or a property deed, paying for a translation for a birth, marriage or death certificate, or struggling with public authorities to get a surname recognised. As more Europeans are on the move – around 12 million EU citizens today live in a Member State other than their own – people often complain about getting public records officially recognised. In some Member States, citizens have to pay a fee so that their documents, which are already officially issued by one Member State, are recognised as authentic. Another problem is that some Member States can require administrative documents that do not always exist in the citizen's home country. These are all obstacles that hinder the right of free movement, guaranteed by the EU Treaties, in everyday life. The European Commission, which is committed to removing these obstacles, published a policy paper today with several options on easing the free circulation of documents that are relevant for citizens. The public can now comment on how the situation could be improved to ensure that these documents are recognised no matter where citizens are or move in the EU. The public has until 30 April to respond. The Commission will take these responses into account when it proposes legislation in 2013.

"Europe’s Single Market is not just about breaking down barriers for goods and services – it’s about making the lives of our citizens easier, notably when they are moving around the EU," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "However, the citizen dimension of the Single Market is not fully developed, and citizens are calling out for change: three quarters of Europeans tell us that the EU needs to improve the circulation of public documents between EU countries. Obsolete formalities frustrate citizens and cost them time and money. I am therefore determined to create a single EU area of justice in which public documents are fully recognised."

The smooth circulation of public documents (such as diplomas, proof of nationality, property deeds) and the recognition of civil status documents recording main “life events” (such as birth, adoption, marriage or death) or a person’s surname are essential for citizens who move to another EU country. Member States' registries and administrative systems vary considerably, causing cumbersome and costly formalities (translation, additional proof of authenticity of documents). These problems make it difficult for citizens to fully enjoy their rights within the EU.

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 the policy paper adopted today, the Commission asks questions on how to improve the free circulation of public documents. In addition, the Commission proposes policy options for easing the cross-border recognition of civil status documents. One option could be to develop Europe-wide forms for the most common civil status documents so that citizens no longer have to pay to have them recognised and translated. Another option is the automatic recognition of civil status documents. Such recognition would not involve the harmonisation of existing rules and would leave Member States’ legal systems unchanged.

Depending on the outcome of the public consultation, the Commission plans two separate legislative proposals in 2013: first, on the free circulation of public documents; and second, on the recognition of civil status situations.


These initiatives are part of the Commission's plans to remove bureaucratic obstacles that hinder citizens' lives and impose extra costs and legal uncertainty on businesses (see IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525). As Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in his political guidelines in September 2009, the EU wants “a Europe that puts people at the heart of the agenda.” This vision is reflected in the Lisbon Treaty that places citizens at the heart of EU policies. The Commission is therefore taking concrete action to make it easier for the nearly 12 million EU citizens who live outside of their home countries and exercise their EU rights to get married, buy a house or register a car in another EU country.

The Commission outlines 25 actions to be taken over the next years in the EU Citizenship Report 2010, which was adopted on 27 October. These initiatives are described in 10 factsheets.

The Commission also proposed today to abolish a costly, cumbersome and time-consuming court procedure called “exequatur,” saving EU companies up to €48 million a year and giving a boost to the EU economy (see IP/10/1705).

For more information

The Commission’s Green Paper on free movement of documents is available at the Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:

Special Eurobarometer survey on civil justice:

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:

10 factsheets on the Commission’s initiatives to remove obstacles encountered by EU citizens in their daily lives:


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