Since Regulation (EU) 2016 / 1191 came into force exactly two years ago (see our article: “(Partial) abolition of the apostille requirement”), on February 16, 2019, many official documents no longer require apostilles or official translations. The experience made with the new set of rules is overall positive. However, there currently exist no plans to expand the scope of application to other documents as well.
Since mid-February 2019, apostilles or official translations are no longer required for a large number of documents as long as the multilingual form is attached, so that the documents can be presented in other EU countries without further ado, i.e. without an official translation or an apostille. This applies to birth certificates, proof of life, death certificates, name certificates, marriage certificates, divorce and separation certificates, certificates of descent, adoption certificates, certificates of residence and citizenship certificates as well as official certificates of good conduct (i.e., extracts from the Criminal Registers).
The Regulation did not come into force until mid-February 2019 and only affects documents issued after February 2019. Nevertheless, it is possible to (re-)issue under the Regulation a birth certificate for someone who was born before the Regulation came into force, i.e. your own, that of your parents and grandparents (as a duplicate), e.g. in family, inheritance and citizenship proceedings. It will likely be easier and cheaper to have a duplicate of an old document issued, rather than to have an old original apostilled and then officially translated. Theoretically, the State Archives in Prague could issue a birth certificate for Emperor Charles IV on his birth in 1316 according to Regulation (EU) 1191/2016, and this document could then be presented in Luxembourg, Italy, Germany or France without an apostille and without an official translation. Ultimately, however, the decision whether the multilingual form is sufficient lies with the public authority to which the document is being submitted.
If there are justified doubts as to the authenticity of documents, either the normal apostille or the procedure according to Art. 14 and 15 of the Regulation may be used. Each country has to designate a so-called "central authority"; in Germany, Sec. 1118 of the Code of Civil Procedure has designated the Federal Office of Justice in Bonn to play this role. In the Czech Republic, the “central authority” are the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic.
Applying the Regulation to legal transactions, including commercial-law transactions, has significant consequences: German certificates of good conduct may be directly submitted to the Czech, Estonian, Finnish or Portuguese Commercial Registers, without an apostille or official translation, if you receive the multilingual form, for as little as approx. 10-25 EUR. For instance, if a Czech notary directly enquires about entries in the Criminal Registers of Germany, Malta, Poland, Cyprus and France (which they are perfectly able to do, though not every notary knows that), then the document can also be presented in those countries.
The EU Commission should decide by mid-February 2021 whether this principle can be extended to other documents, e.g. extracts from the commercial register or extracts from the land register. However, no tangible information is available at this point. In any case, it is questionable whether everything that can be found in a multilingual form can be pre-translated in practice, such as the representation by managing directors or authorized signatories or voting rights in the case of an extract from the Commercial Register, or the existence of rights in rem, cadastral designations, etc. in the case of an extract from the Land Register. Anyone who has ever seen an official certificate of conduct or marriage – furnished with a bulky set of approx. 10-15 pages of translations from one into all other 24 official EU languages, starting in Bulgarian and ending in Swedish – will appreciate how difficult it is to translate all variants of a form into 24 languages in a clear way.
And yet, an alternative would have been available to the European lawmaker – each citizen could choose the fitting translation for the receiving country, e.g. when issuing a document in Germany designated for the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Spain, the document could be issued in Slovak and Spanish only (Slovak documents also work without a translation in the Czech Republic and vice versa, which is unique in the EU). Then it would also be practically possible to issue a document in the country of origin which is already quite lengthy in one language, such as the European Certificate of Succession (ECS), in the language in which it will be needed (as this language will usually already be known when the application is made). Thus far, each ECS has to be translated separately, which is a costly affair for a ten-page document (only the apostille has already been abolished, by Art. 74 of European Succession Regulation (EU) 650/2012). It is also an exercise in futility, since the form is already translated in the EU Official Journal into all 24 languages. A translation into all 24 languages would expand the appendix of an ECS to almost 300 pages.
Regulation (EU) 2016/1191 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016