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New Regulation equating certified translations across the European Union

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

2019 is seeing some changes for certified translations in the European Union in the form of a new Regulation that has seen not a little controversy. We are talking about EU Regulation 2016/1191 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 facilitating the free movement of citizens by simplifying the requirements for the production of certain authentic acts in the European Union and amending Regulation (EU) 1024/2012. Apart from the discussion, which was fundamental - and which we are not going to enter into now - the Regulation has been approved and is gradually entering into force this year.

The purpose of the Regulation, as its name suggests, is to reduce bureaucracy and the costs of translating public instruments. According to Commissioner Věra Jourová, European citizens complain about the "long and costly bureaucratic procedures for presenting a public document in order to be able to marry or get a job in the country in which they reside", and this includes certified translations (see http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2092_en.htm). For this purpose, standard multilingual forms and "translation assistance" forms are configured to avoid having to translate the public document being issued.

I have no idea at all where the idea about the excessive cost of certified translations has come from (I saw nothing in the Eurobarometer survey to indicate such an issue) but I think it is a false problem that depends very much on how the point is raised. Certified translations have their cost - no doubt - but it is no less true that a certified translator is a person trained with extensive linguistic knowledge that is not acquired in the short term. The certified translator translates the document and also assumes responsibility by certifying the content of what he or she has translated. Obviously, you can't expect that to be done at a bargain price. It has always been curious to me that some are able to complain about the cost of a certified translation but very little when they are given a bill in a workshop or any official household appliance service.

Without going to much into the issue of price, Regulation 2016/1191 does not invent anything new either. It simply progresses and continues down the path of establishing standardised forms to facilitate the exchange of information. This is something we are already familiar with in other areas such as multilingual birth or marriage certificates that are exempt from legalisation and do not require translation. It is rather the case that Regulation 2016/1191 falls short since it could have delved into the electronic and telematic aspect of online verification of certificates. Article 14 ("Request for information in case of reasonable doubt") seems rather old-fashioned in an age where we have verification security codes with which to check the authenticity of a document on the webpage of many public bodies.

What does the Regulation mean for certified translators? Well, that depends on their language combination. Multilingual forms were already being used in France and Germany. Vienna Convention No. 16 of the International Commission on Civil Status of 8 September 1976 (BOE 200 of 22 August 1983) on multilingual birth, marriage or death certificates exempted documents from legalisation in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland and Turkey, to name but a few. So, there's nothing new about this.

The most interesting part is probably to be found in Article 6.2 of Regulation 2016/1191, which reads as follows:

“A certified translation carried out by a person qualified to do so under the law of a Member State shall be accepted in all Member States.”

In other words, from the entry into force of the standard, all certified translations within the European Union will be treated in the same way. It is a subject of deep significance that should remove the barriers that we encounter with certified translations outside of their country of origin. However, we will have to look at the problems that this novelty may entail. Because if we accept any certified translation from abroad, it is essential to check the appointment of the certified translator and the authenticity of their signature. Hence Regulation 2016/1161 provides for the need to have 'lists of persons who are entitled under national law to produce certified translations, where such lists exist; an indicative list of the types of authorities empowered under national law to produce certified copies; information on the means by which certified translations and certified copies can be identified; and information on the specific characteristics of certified copies'. We'd better, because the opposite would mean enabling all kinds of counterfeits and frauds.

My guess would be that this Regulation will not be accepted by authorities in many countries. Different institutions have their own ideas about what they deem to be an acceptable certified translation, and I doubt they would look too kindly on the EU telling them how they must do so, even if it is the law. With its unregulated system of certified translation, this is clearly not going to work in UK at least. Since we lack the necessary list of certified translators in this country (since such a concept does not exist – it is the translation itself, not the translator, that is certified), I find it highly unlikely that there will be wide-spread EU acceptance of translations certified using the usual laid-back UK method. For this reason we’ll continue to certify our translations according to the laws of the destination country, using the locally registered members of our group. This way we can continue to offer our certified translations with guaranteed acceptance, or your money back. As ever, thanks for reading.

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