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New European Regulation Cuts The Red Tape

On the 9th of June 2016, the European Parliament has adopted a regulation (the “Public Documents Regulation”), proposed by the Commission, to cut costs and formalities for citizens who need to present a public document in another EU country.

The aim of the regulation is to simplify the circulation of public documents between Member States and to reduce bureaucracy, thus saving time and money to EU citizens who live in a Union country other than their own. What is changing with the Public Documents Regulation? Currently, citizens who move to another EU country must obtain a stamp to prove that their public documents (such as a birth, marriage or death certificate) are authentic.

The Public Documents Regulation will put an end to a number of bureaucratic procedures when presenting public documents issued in one EU country to the authorities of another. It is important to note that the regulation does not apply to public documents issued by the authorities of non-EU countries. More specifically, public documents issued in a Union country must be accepted as authentic in another Member State without the need to carry an authenticity stamp (i.e. the apostille).

Furthermore, the regulation also abolishes the need for citizens to provide in all cases a certified copy and a certified translation of their public documents when this document is in one of the official languages of the Union country or in another non-official language that the Union country can accept. Will translation of documents from another EU country still be required? The regulation introduces multilingual standard forms which will be available in all EU languages. These forms will be attached to their public document and will be used as a translation aid.

In this way citizens can avoid translation requirements. In such cases, the receiving Union country can only require a translation of the document in exceptional circumstances. The public documents to which translation aids can be attached are those 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. What if some people create fake documents? The regulation also sets safeguards against fraud. If a receiving authority has reasonable doubts about the authenticity of a public document, it will be able to check its authenticity with the issuing authority in the other country through the existing IT platform, the Internal Market Information System (IMI), already in use in other areas such as patient rights or cash-in-transit.

In addition, a database with the national public documents will be built-up in the IMI which will enable authorities to compare documents presented to them by citizens with the national examples available in the repository. The authorities of Union countries will regularly meet in a committee to evaluate and if necessary enhance fraud prevention mechanisms. Which documents are covered by the new rules? Public documents currently subject to the apostille and other administrative formalities are covered by the new rules. More specifically, 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. We must emphasize that the regulation deals only 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. 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. What do the authorities have to do? The authorities of EU 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.

When is the change scheduled to happen? The regulation will soon be published in the Official Journal of the EU and be brought into effect gradually, so as to apply in full from 2019. Therefore, Member States will have two and a half years from the date of its entry into force, to adopt all necessary measures in order to allow for the smooth application of the regulation at the end of this period. The current regulation will reduce the costly and time-consuming bureaucratic procedures currently required to present a public document, and will enable people to move more easily across the EU.

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