Free circulation of public documents
People in the Union have become increasingly mobile and they now more than ever study, work, live or raise a family in another Union country. However, Europeans who are on the move - around 13 million Union citizens today live in a Union country other than their own - are often confronted with bureaucratic hurdles.
Obstacles to free movement
Europeans who live in another Union country or simply want to benefit from a right or comply with an obligation in another Union country may need to present a public document. For example, a citizen may need to present a birth certificate in order to get married in another Union country, a certificate on the absence of a criminal record in order to apply for a job in another Union country, or a death certificate if they must resolve inheritance matters in another Union country.
Citizens often complain about the red tape and costs that they need to bear in order to have a public document issued in one Union country considered as authentic in another Union country, as this entails the need for the citizen to obtain and pay for an authentication stamp for the document (the so-called apostille). In addition, citizens may need to get a certified translation of the document or always present a certified copy of the document.
All these formalities may constitute obstacles to the citizens' right to free movement guaranteed by the Union Treaties.
Facilitating the free circulation of citizens
The smooth circulation of public documents is essential to facilitate the lives of citizens who move to another EU country or need to present a public document in another EU country.
According to a Eurobarometer survey , 73% of EU citizens believe that measures should be taken to improve the circulation of public documents between EU countries.
In 2010, the Commission adopted a Green Paper entitled 'Less bureaucracy for citizens: promoting free movement of public documents and recognition of the effects of civil status records', which proposed actions to ease the free circulation of public documents. A Public Consultation was subsequently conducted to gather stakeholders' comments on the actions proposed in the Green Paper.
As a follow-up step to the Green Paper, the Commission adopted in 2013 a proposal for a Regulation simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the Union.
The New Regulation
After complex negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council, on 9 June 2016 the European Parliament adopted a Regulation simplifying the circulation of public documents between Member States. The Regulation aims at slashing red tape and costs for citizens when they present in a Union country a public document issued in another Union country.
The Regulation covers public documents such as certificates, notarial acts, judgments and consular documents in certain areas. The areas covered are the following: birth; a person being alive; death; name; marriage, including capacity to marry and marital status; divorce, legal separation or marriage annulment; registered partnership, including capacity to enter into a registered partnership and registered partnership status; dissolution of a registered partnership, legal separation or annulment of a registered partnership; parenthood; adoption; domicile and/or residence; nationality; absence of a criminal record and the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections and elections to the European Parliament.
Under the Regulation, when a citizen presents in a Union country a public document issued in another Union country in one of the areas covered by the Regulation, the receiving authorities will no longer be able to require that the document bear an apostille stamp to prove its authenticity. The exemption from the apostille stamp applies to both original public documents and their certified copies. This exemption will save citizens the time and money that they currently need to invest in obtaining an apostille stamp.
The Regulation deals with the authenticity of public documents but not with the recognition of the contents and effects of such documents. Each Union country will thus continue to apply its own law to the recognition of the content and effects of public documents from another Union country. So, for example, a marriage certificate will be considered authentic in another Union country without it having to bear an apostille stamp, but whether or not the receiving Union country recognises the marriage depends on the national law of that country.
The Regulation also simplifies formalities with regard to certified copies. Union countries will be able to require the presentation of the original public document or of its certified copy, but not both at the same time. And, if a Union country does not require the presentation of the original public document and accepts its certified copy, it must accept a certified copy made in another Union country.
And what about translations? The Union country where the public document is presented cannot require a translation if the public document is in one of the official languages of the Union country or in another non-official language that the Union country can accept.
In addition, the Regulation introduces multilingual standard forms. These forms are in all Union languages and can be used by citizens in another Union country as translation aids attached to their public document. In this way citizens can avoid translation requirements. If the public document presented is accompanied by a multilingual standard form as a translation aid, the receiving Union country can only require a translation of the document in exceptional circumstances. If such exceptional circumstances exist and the receiving Union country requires a certified translation, it must accept a certified translation made in another Union country.
The Regulation introduces multilingual standard forms as translation aids of public documents concerning birth, a person being alive, death, marriage (including capacity to marry and marital status), registered partnership (including capacity to enter into a registered partnership and registered partnership status), domicile and/or residence and absence of a criminal record.
The authorities of Union countries must inform citizens of the advantages offered by the Regulation in their websites and also when a citizen addresses the authorities of a Union country to request an apostille stamp.
Finally, the Regulation sets out a mechanism to fight against fraudulent public documents. This mechanism is based on an existing IT system (the so-called Internal Market Information system or IMI) that allows the authorities of the receiving Union country to talk to the authorities of the issuing Union country if they have a serious doubt about the authenticity of a public document presented by a citizen.
The Regulation does not apply to public documents issued by the authorities of non-EU countries.
Next steps: Union countries have two years and a half from the date of entry into force of the Regulation to adopt all necessary measures to allow for the smooth application of the Regulation at the end of this period. During this period, the Commission and Union countries will also work together to put in place electronic versions of the multilingual standard forms to make them available in the European e-Justice Portal.
Two years after the Regulation becomes applicable, the Commission will consider whether to include in its scope additional areas such as educational records, disabilities and the legal status and representation of companies.