That sound so familiar to the expatriate, the ker-chunk of a rubber stamp, will cease to be ubiquitous if the European Commission gets its way with a proposal to scrap the requirement for authentication of public documents in another EU state to require rubber-stamping.
The European Commission said on April 24 2013 that it was proposing to slash red tape for citizens and businesses by doing away with bureaucratic rubber-stamping exercises currently required to get public documents like birth certificates recognised as authentic in another EU member state.
Currently, citizens who move to another EU country 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 EU country 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, the European Commission said. 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 judgments, 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,” the EC said.
The EC is therefore proposing to scrap the “Apostille” stamp and a further series of what it called “arcane administrative requirements” for certifying public documents for people living and working in other EU 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 on April 24, 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 documents would automatically be exempted from formalities such as ‘Apostille’ and ‘legalisation’ – which are currently required for about 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 EC said.
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.
“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 conventions.”
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).