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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 24 April 2013

Frequently Asked Questions: European Commission acts to slash red tape in all Member States

Why is the Commission proposing this Regulation?

The proposal aims to slash costs and lengthy procedures caused by bureaucratic formalities that today require citizens and businesses to prove that their public documents (such as birth or legal status certificate) as issued by their country of origin are authentic. Such procedures are outdated and complicate the exercise of the EU citizens' right to free movement and businesses' single market freedoms. At the same time, the Regulation would provide necessary safeguards preventing the use of forged public documents within the EU.

The principal function of public documents is to provide factual proof of the acts of a public authority. While domestic public documents are presumed to be authentic without additional proof, those from other Member States are often subject to proof of authentication through additional formalities such as the Apostille stamp, legalisation or a particular form, i.e. certified copies and certified translations.

The proposed Regulation would do away with such fomalities for a significant number of public documents. It is a key initiative during the European Year of Citizens 2013.

What are the savings for citizens and businesses?

The Regulation would cut costs for both EU citizens and businesses. Existing Apostille requirements alone are thought to affect at least 1.4 million public documents a year within the EU.

The simplifications included in the Regulation would lead to annual savings for EU citizens and businesses between €25.8 million and €26.2 million on Apostilles and between €2.3 and €4.6 million on legalisation. There would be additional savings due to the simplification of certified copies in the order of €100–200 million per year.

Moreover, the removal of certified translations would also save costs between €75–100 million annually for EU citizens and businesses. The cost for such translations varies from country to country, but is typically around €30 per page.

The simplifications are also expected to lead to cost savings for the public administrations dealing with such documents, saving money for taxpayers too.

Last but not least, citizens will save a lot of time – bearing in mind that the majority of Member States needs around one week to issue and Apostille stamp (see Annex for an overview).

Which public documents would be covered by the new rules?

Typical examples of public documents related to EU rights of EU citizens and businesses, which are subject to the identified administrative formalities, are

  1. Civil status records (e.g. documents relating to birth, death, marriage and registered partnership);

  2. Documents relating to residence, citizenship and nationality;

  3. Documents relating to real estate;

  4. Documents relating to legal status and representation of a company or other undertaking;

  5. Documents relating to intellectual property rights;

  6. Documents proving the absence of a criminal record.

Which 'formalities' for getting public documents accepted in another Member State will be abolished by the new rules?

The administrative formalities in question are legalisation and Apostille, which are international procedures, not designed to take account of developments in EU law.

Legalisation is the formal procedure for certifying the authenticity of a signature, the capacity in which the person signing the public document has acted and, where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp which it bears. It has the effect of putting a foreign public document on the same footing as a domestic public document as far as proof of its authenticity is concerned.

In the EU, the procedure of legalisation has been largely substituted by the similar formality of Apostille, which involves the addition of a certificate replacing the requirement for legalisation of foreign public documents. The Apostille procedure is an international system established by the Hague Convention of 1961 (the Apostille Convention). The Apostille is issued by an authority of the state of origin, and certifies the genuineness or “authenticity" of the signature, the capacity in which the person signing the public document has acted and, where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp, which it bears”

Other formalities which serve a similar purpose in cross-border situations are certification requirements for translations and certification requirements for copies of public documents.

Who will be affected?

Today at least 12.6 million EU citizens live in a Member State other than their own and are confronted with unnecessary bureaucracy in a range of everyday situations when dealing with public administrations.

Likewise, around 7 million small and medium-sized (SMEs) enterprises in the EU are involved in cross-border trade while many others have investments abroad or have subcontracts with companies in another Member State. These SMEs also have to go through various administrative formalities involving public documents as part of their business activities.

Here are some real-life examples:

1) A Spanish citizen marries a Belgian in Spain

The couple is informed they will need an Apostille in addition to a Spanish translation of the groom’s birth certificate and that the Apostille also has to be translated. As a result, the couple’s paperwork is not ready in time for the wedding and they are forced to delay it.

Once married, the couple also has problems getting their Spanish marriage certificate accepted in Belgium: they need an Apostille from the Spanish authorities, but as they live in Belgium they have to send all documents back to Spain. This takes so long that they miss the three month deadline for getting the Apostille and are forced to request a new original marriage certificate and again ask for an Apostille.

2) A Dutch-Finnish family adopts a child

A Dutch–Finnish married couple used to live in Finland, where they adopted a child. For professional reasons, they move to the Netherlands where they have to prove that their son was legally adopted. To do so, they acquire the relevant extract from the Finnish population register including documentation of adoption from the Finnish authorities. When the couple uses the Finnish documents in the Netherlands, they are told that an Apostille is needed from the Finnish authorities. But when they try to get the Apostille, they discover that it can only be attached to documents which are less than three months old. Since they obtained their documents four months ago, the couple has to ask the Finnish authority where the child was adopted to issue a new original document and then ask for another Apostille on it. In addition, a certified translation of the document is required.

The whole process takes additional time and money, delaying the family’s move to the Netherlands and causing unnecessary stress.

3) A German company bids for a contract in the Czech Republic

A company based in Germany applies for a public procurement contract in the Czech Republic. To do so, it needs to provide a large number of documents to prove its reliability, such as the absence of a criminal record for its CEO in Germany. The firm must also supply certified translations in Czech.

These formalities cost the company additional time and money, putting it at a disadvantage in the bid process. This could even result in a more expensive firm being awarded the contract, increasing the costs for the Czech authorities.

Today's proposal would do way with such absurd complexities:

  • Legalisation and Apostille requirements for public documents will be abolished between Member States;

  • Certified translations should, in principle, not be requested for public documents. Simple translations with adequate quality will be sufficient;

  • In the area of birth, death, marriage, registered partnerships and legal status and representation of a company or other undertaking, EU multilingual standard forms may be requested by citizens from the authorities, saving translation costs and providing for simple documentation of citizens’ legal situation in these areas.

Why are school and university diplomas not covered?

School and university diplomas do not fall under the scope of this new Regulation. Professional qualifications, school and university diplomas are covered by specific European Union law on the recognition of professional qualifications, such as Directive 2005/36/EC.

Will other Member States have to recognise my marriage certificate, even if they do not recognise same-sex marriage?

The Regulation does not provide for recognition of the content of the marriage certificate, but only for the acceptance of public documents, meaning that the authenticity of the document (signature of public office holder and capacity in which he/she is signing) is mutually accepted between Member States without any additional certification requirements.

Do the EU multilingual standard forms replace the equivalent national public documents?

The EU standard multilingual forms will be available to citizens and businesses as an alternative to equivalent national public documents. Although national public documents remain untouched, citizens and businesses have the choice to request an EU standard form as an alternative to national documents and the authorities will have to issue them. These forms will considerably facilitate translation and as a consequence reduce costs and time-consuming procedures for citizens and businesses.

What can national authorities do if they think a public document is fraudulent?

The proposed Regulation offers national authorities up-to-date safeguards against fraud through fast and secure electronic communication. This strengthened and structured administrative cooperation will be put in place using the existing Internal Market Information System (IMI), which was established by the Commission and is already in use in other areas such as patient rights or cash-in-transit.

Concretely, a national authority which has a reasonable doubt about the authenticity of a public document will be able to verify a suspicious document with the authority of the Member State which issued the public document directly by using the IMI system. This direct communication between Member State authorities will allow streamlined and effective fraud prevention.

In addition, a repository of national public documents will be built-up in the IMI which will allow authorities to compare documents with the national examples available in the repository.

Finally, central authorities will be established which will regularly meet in the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters to evaluate and if necessary enhance fraud prevention mechanisms.

The new Regulation uses Article 21(2) as a legal basis for the first time – why has this not been used before and what can we expect in the future?

The proposal is based on Article 21(2) TFEU which empowers the European Parliament and the Council to adopt provisions to facilitate the rights of EU citizens to move and reside freely within the EU. Administrative obstacles to the cross-border use and acceptance of public documents have a direct impact on people’s ability to use their free movement rights. This is why removing these obstacles would facilitate the exercise of these rights, as foreseen in Article 21(2) TFEU.

This Article is combined with Article 114(1) TFEU which allows the EU legislators to adopt measures to improve the functioning of the internal market. Administrative obstacles to the cross-border use and acceptance of public documents have a direct impact on the full enjoyment of the internal market freedoms of EU businesses as described in Article 26(2) TFEU and referred to in Article 114(1) TFEU.

As more and more Europeans make use of their EU citizenship rights to free movement in the EU’s Single Market, more and more citizens living in another Member face difficulties in exercising their rights. Therefore, the Commission is focusing more than ever on the needs of citizens to fully exercise their free movement rights in order to meet their expectations.

What else is the EU doing to remove obstacles to free movement and prevent discrimination against EU citizens from another Member State?

The first EU Citizenship Report in 2010 showed that more and more Europeans are making use of their rights to free movement, but that they still face obstacles to exercising these rights (see IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525). The proposal on simplifying acceptance of public documents is just one of the actions included in that report, but it included a further 24 actions to tear down remaining barriers EU citizens face when exercising their right to free movement in the EU.

Achievements so far include:

  1. Strengthening the rights of around 75 million crime victims a year across the EU (IP/11/585)

  2. Slashing red tape for 3.5 million people registering a car in another EU country each year, with savings of €1.5 billion (IP/12/349)

  3. Banning extra credit card charges and pre-ticked boxes for online shoppers (MEMO/11/675)

  4. Reinforcing fair trial rights for all EU citizens, applying to around 8 million proceedings a year (IP/12/430, IP/10/1305)

  5. Clarifying property rights for Europe's 16 million international couples (IP/11/320)

During the 2013 European Year for Citizens, the Commission is placing a special emphasis on citizenship rights and will set out a new set of actions to facilitate these rights in the forthcoming 2013 EU Citizenship Report, expected in May.

The new report will take stock of the 25 actions outlined in 2010 and will outline 12 new concrete actions to address remaining problems that EU citizens still face. The report will take account of the issues raised by Europeans during a major online public consultation on citizenship rights and a series of Citizens’ dialogues organised by the Commission to ask the public for their say about the future of Europe (http://ec.europa.eu/european-debate).

ANNEX

Cost range and time required to issue Apostille

Source: Commission Impact Assessment, Annex 11, page 29


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