Certified Translation: The Business is Over

Published on 22/12/2015

legislative proposal published on 24 April 2013 by the Commissioner Viviane Reding in the European Parliament means that certified translation is no longer necessary for birth certificates, marriage certificates, criminal records, academic certificates, certificates from the Companies Registry and the Land Registry, etc. The initiative is now under way after being approved on the 4 February 2014 by the European Parliament. It is currently under discussion in the CouncilThe objective is to reduce the red tape that citizens and companies are currently faced with when moving to another Member State.

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

Eureka! In the summer of 2013 I had a business idea which, at the time, I thought was genius: certified translations of simple documents such as birth and marriage certificates managed through an on-line platform... After the initial euphoria had died down, I thought about it: "With 7000 million people on Earth I wouldn't be surprised if somebody else had had the same idea. I'm sure it's not the first time". So the first thing I did was a Google search.

Indeed, the service was already invented and in full swing. And it turns out that it's a company from Murcia (I'm originally from Águilas, Murcia, in Spain) with a business award and everything. júramelo.es is a portal for the automated management of certified translations. The company certainly had a good SEO and had an advantage over us, but there was only one portal specialised in certified translation, so we sprang into action: there was a market!

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

I was just developing the business idea when a fellow translator, who does a lot of certified translation, told me about the Commissioner Viviane Reding's proposal. I looked into it and found the July 2013 entry in the blog of Fernando Gascón Nasarre, a Spanish lawyer and certified translator from Zaragoza: New Draft Regulation Abolishing Certified Translations for Public Documents (in Spanish), that made it very clear. The business was over. Well, it was a nice dream while it lasted.

It will no longer be necessary to translate certain types of public documents

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

A legislative proposal was presented in April 2013 in order to reduce the red tape that European companies and citizens are faced with when moving to another country of the European Union. Amongst the proposals is the elimination of certified translations for public documents:

"The proposal foresees that authorities should accept non-certified translations of public document issued by the authorities of other Member States. If the authorities of the Member State in which the public document is presented have reasonable doubt about the correctness or quality of its translation in an individual case, they may require a certified translation of that document."

The Hague Apostille, currently a requirement for the recognition of public documents within the European Community, would also be abolished under the proposal. The proposal was widely accepted amongst MEP's, who approved the text with 573 votes in favour, 62 against and 44 abstentions.

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

To know which documents will not need a certified translation, it is essential to understand the meaning of public document in the context of this proposal. This will lead to savings in certified translation for citizens and companies, and a drastic decrease in income for the majority of certified translators. We can find the definition of public document in article 3, point 1 of the proposal.

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

Article 3 was modified during the parliamentary procedure, widening the range of documents affected by the proposal. The proposal with the corresponding amendments was approved by the European Parliament on 4 February 2014. Article 3, point 1, after the amendments states:

"1) "public documents" means documents issued by authorities of a Member State or by Union authorities, including Union multilingual standard forms as referred to in Article 11, and having formal evidentiary value relating to:

       a) the identity of a natural person;

       b) the signature of a natural person;

       c) the civil status and family relationships of a natural person;

       g) residence;

       ga) civil rights and electoral rights;

       gb) immigration status;

       gc) qualifications and records of schooling and further education;

       gd) health, including officially recognised disability;

       ge) the licence to drive or operate terrestrial, airborne and maritime vehicles;

       h) citizenship and nationality;

       i) real estate;

       j) legal status and representation of a company or other undertaking;

       ja) the legal form and representation of other legal persons;

       jb) the tax obligations and status of a natural or legal person;

       jc) the tax and customs status of assets;

       jd) social insurance entitlements of all kinds;

       k) intellectual property rights;

       l) absence of a criminal record and/or entries in criminal records;"

It is important to bear in mind point 2 of the same article:

2) "authority" means a public authority of a Member State or an entity authorised by virtue of an act or an administrative decision to carry out public duties, including courts or notaries issuing public documents as referred to in point 1, or a Union authority;"

However, it should be noted that this text is not definitive and could be amended by the Council, or even rejected. Nevertheless, it seems that sooner or later European citizens will no longer need the certified translation of public documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, criminal records, disability certificates, articles of incorporation, death certificates, powers of attorney, passports, national identity cards, driving licenses... to mention only the most common documents.

When will it come into force?

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

Good things come to those that wait. Currently the proposal is with the Council for a first reading that should be concluded during 2015 and, according to European Union legislative procedure, a second reading may be carried out in the European Parliament with the Council's amendments. Without being an expert in Community law, after some investigation I can say that, according to my conclusions, by the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, this regulation could be approved and published in the Official Journal of the European Union. If you are interested, you can follow the evolution of this legislative initiative here.

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

As this is a regulation, that is, a binding legislative act, it will be applied directly throughout the EU. When we start to notice the practical effects in Spain, in the case that it is finally approved, is difficult to say, but, in principle, I would say that in 2016.

Will certified translation disappear?

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

Clearly not:

Firstly, the regulation will only affect the public documents specified in article 3. According to my interpretation, documents such as letters rogatory or court sentences will still have to be translated by a certified translator if required by the authorities of a Member State.

Secondly, it only affects documents issued in the European Union, so documents from the United States, Canada, Australia, Morocco, Algeria, and basically, any country outside of the European Union, will still need the Hague Apostille and a certified translation in order to be accepted.

Thirdly, as it stands, the regulation contemplates that authorities may require a certified translation in case of doubt about the translation of a document. This translation must be paid by the public institution if the one presented by the citizen or company is equally valid compared to the certified translation. If not, it will be paid by the private party.

Certified translation, and therefore certified translators (in countries where these are named by the authorities of the Member State), will still be necessary. In fact, certified translations of languages such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian will not be affected at all by this regulation. However, those that translate EU documents will be, and they will suffer a significant reduction of this source of income.

The creation of multilingual public documents is proposed

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

The proposal also establishes multilingual EU standard forms relating to birth, death, marriage, registered partnership and legal status and representation of a society or company. Besides this, in order to continue reducing the remaining translation requirements for citizens and companies of the European Union, at a later stage similar multilingual standard forms will be created for public documents relating to name, adoption, affiliation, residence, citizenship, nationality, real estate, intellectual property rights and absence of a criminal record. The multilingual EU standard forms will not be mandatory but, when used, they will have the same formal evidentiary value as the equivalent public documents issued by the authorities of the Member State.

Who is against the proposal?

I think that basically all those that will be financially affected, and I imagine that especially those that currently make a living from certified translation. There are some quite excessive comments on the matter from certified translators on Fernando Gascón's blog entries from July 2013 and February 2014 (in Spanish) with better or worse arguments. Fernando himself argues that it will create legal uncertainty, and it is easy to imagine this type of situation.

EULITA (European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association) have a similar opinion to Fernando, pointing out that if there is no record of who did the translation and it is possible for anybody to present a translation, then we'll find some documents being translated with Google. You can see EULITA's arguments in more detail here.

Some other professional associations, like the Spanish Professional Association of Court and Sworn Interpreters and Translators, are also against the proposal.

Certified Translation: The Business is Over

In my opinion, the spirit of the law is positive for the majority of companies and citizens and it will make life easier in the Eurozone. There will be cases in which translations will be done by people that don't have acceptable translation skills. This will be of greater or lesser importance depending on the complexity of the documents.


Everything suggests that by 2016 many public documents will not need to be accompanied by a certified translation. The draft law, which was widely accepted in the European Parliament, aims to facilitate procedures and reduce the costs for European companies and citizens to move to another Member State. I think that on a whole the law is positive for European citizens and companies. You can never please everyone, and many certified translation professionals will be disadvantaged by this law which will eliminate what until now had been an important source of income.

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Josh Gambin's picture
Josh Gambin

Josh Gambin holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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