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It is one of those things almost guaranteed to make our heads spin: getting bogged down in official bureaucracy and paperwork. Using public documents such as birth certificates can often be at the heart of the problem, as they are essential to prove who we are. And imagine what it is like for those who move to a different country.
Some say bureaucracy is blocking European rights on free movement.
Euronews travelled to Austria to get reaction to new plans to slash the red tape. Brussels is proposing a new regulation aimed at reducing the money, time and energy spent on authenticating official documents used across European borders. This would affect hundreds of thousands of cases involving individuals and businesses.
Right On met a French pilot, Vincent Mazel, and his partner, Sophie Piel, who know all about the stress of administrative red tape. They settled in Vienna five years ago, but are still not sure they have beaten the paperwork.
For example, they have had to register the births of two of their three children and sign up for social security. But getting their papers in order, as an unmarried couple, has been difficult.
Sophie told Right On: “Every time we do official paperwork we’re not sure if we’re doing everything within our rights, because we’re foreigners, when actually of course we have the same rights. But we’re not sure, and we don’t speak the language well enough to express ourselves.
“Also, we have the impression that we’re a nuisance, either because of the queue behind us, or because the kids are noisy, or because we’re not the only ones filling in papers, and we take more time with the officials in front of us. So we end up saying ‘damn, we have annoyed them, we have been a real nuisance’. At the end of the day they’re not there for us. Normally they’re there to help Austrian people.”
Vincent added: “It is very unsettling because we realise that if we make a mistake when establishing a civil status document, this will stay with the child throughout his life. So we really try to focus, to understand as precisely as possible what we need to provide in terms of documents, and we totally rely on the officials on the other side of the counter.
“But we get the impression that even they are a bit lost and not sure about the validity of what they are doing. This plants a seed of doubt and worry, and we wonder ‘but who should we go to, who’s responsible for these procedures?”
Brussels wants to scrap what it calls arcane and costly rubber-stamping formalities, including so-called ‘legalised’ versions or ‘certified’ translations of public documents. It also wants to give people the option of using multi-lingual EU standard forms to further avoid translation. And in response to concern about fraud, administrative cooperation between states would be improved.
Right On’s Seamus Kearney reported: “The new European regulation will cover documents in certain areas including: birth, death, marriage, name documents; partnerships, parenthood and adoption papers; residency, citizenship, nationality certificates; but also company details, intellectual property rights and real estate documents.”
Papers showing absence of a criminal record are also covered.
Austria’s Pan-Europa Movement, the oldest European unification group, took part in a public consultation on the new rules. It welcomes simpler procedures in some areas, but says different standards have to be respected.
The movement’s Rainhard Kloucek told Euronews: “It depends what is actually meant by simplification. It should be about getting things recognised in the easiest way possible, so it’s then not necessary to get a document translated for example. That’s simplification.
“However, given there are different legal standards in place, simplification does not mean having everything automatically recognised.”
But Brussels says the regulation will not force countries to recognise a document’s contents, which some had been calling for. For example, a gay marriage certificate issued in one EU country, would not be automatically recognised in other member states.
For now the focus is on reducing the hassle of proving authenticity.
Sophie Piel told Right On: “The situations we face build up and make us fragile, and that’s when we lose our confidence. And when that happens, I no longer know whether what I am asking for is within my rights.
“We’re always asking ourselves ‘actually, maybe they’re right, it’s my fault, I’m a foreigner, what am I doing here, there’s no point in me being here. You have to be quite strong to keep confronting the system, the big machine, the administrative steamroller.”
The new regulation still has to be approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. And for those wondering about the recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications, that comes under the scope of separate EU law.