New measures will make cross-border litigation cheaper and easier for companies, and reduce administration for people living, working and travelling in other EU countries.
The Commission wants to make life easier for citizens who work, travel or set up home in another EU country and is collecting their views on how the current arrangements can be improved.
One option would be to introduce Europe-wide forms for the most common civil status documents, such as birth certificates. Another is ensuring that such forms would be recognised automatically in any EU country. Such a change would not affect individual countries' legal systems.
Administrative systems vary between the 27 EU countries. This means that public documents (such as a contract or property deed) and civil status documents (including birth and marriage certificates) are not always recognised outside of the country in which they were issued.
The consequence is an often cumbersome process for the 12 million people living in an EU country other than their own. And if translation or additional proof of status is required, getting documents recognised can also be expensive. A recent survey illustrated support for change - 73% of respondents said that measures should be taken to improve the circulation of public documents between EU countries.
The consultation is open until 30 April, and comments will be taken into account when proposals for new laws are prepared in 2013.
Business is also set to benefit. A new proposal would cut the legal costs faced by a company wanting to have a legal judgement recognised in another EU country.
For example, if a Swedish company sues a German company for late payment, EU laws already allow for the court ruling made in one country to be fully recognised and enforced in the other. But if the court rules in the Swedish company's favour, it would still need to pay up to €3 000 in legal costs to have the ruling recognised in both countries. This extra expenditure is a burden.
The European Commission is now seeking to abolish this requirement, which costs businesses around €48 million every year. The new rules would also offer increased protection for European consumers involved in disputes with parties in non-EU countries.