In the EU, bureaucracy still can make daily life - from travel to doctors visits to weddings - surprisingly difficult. But officials hope a new package of cross-border initiatives will change that.
If only it were this easy: cross-border weddings can get stalled by bureaucracy
A united Europe may be the ideal behind the European Union, but the reality often looks quite different: Each member state has its own rules, and its own, often highly developed, bureaucracy.
With around 12 million Europeans living not at home but in another EU country, the need for unified policy on a host of issues that affect people's daily lives - things like marriage, birth certificates, social benefits, and workers' rights - is increasing.
Now, the European Commission has introduced 25 concrete proposals aimed at making life easier for Europeans who live and work in other EU member states.
Increasing number of complaints
"Until now we have dealt mostly with economic decisions, but now it's the citizens' turn," EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding said in an interview with the Koelner Stadt Anzeiger newspaper. For the first time, she issued her citizens' report together with Internal Markets Commissioner Michael Barnier.
Brussels is fielding an increasing number of complaints about bureaucratic hurdles, Reding said. Every year, some 100,000 citizen complaints are reported on topics from retirement to consumer rights to work qualifications, birth certificates and marriage certificates. About a quarter of those questions have to do with inter-border problems.
Brussels is known as a hub of bureaucracy - can things be improved?
Operating under the project name "Your Europe," the commission plans to created a website and telephone hotlines in 27 EU countries, so Europeans can figure out how to make the most of their rights in sticky bureaucratic situations.
One area that increasingly affects Europeans is bi-national marriages. They've been known to falter - and sometimes fail - after running aground on the shoals of bureaucracy.
Finn to wed Cypriot? Just try it.
Case in point: a Finnish woman who wanted to marry a man from Cyprus recently was asked to provide her fiance's "certificate of no impediment" - a standard marriage document in Finland. Unfortunately, that document doesn't exist in Cyprus. Short-term result? No wedding.
The initiative would make solving this problem - as well as dealing with divorces and custody agreements - easier. If it is implemented, every citizen across Europe would be given access to official documents, like birth certificates.
Automobile drivers with wanderlust are also likely to welcome the measures. Currently, people who have a car that is registered in Germany, but who move abroad - say, to Greece - pay licensing fees in both countries. One of the new measures would stop the double fees.
Changes in pharmaceuticals, travel
The idea is also to make medical payments more transparent: Up to now, insurers didn't necessarily cover a prescribed medicine sold under a different name in another country, even if it was made by the same company with the same ingredients. That is expected to change. Likewise, medical visits could get easier, with the electronic exchange of patient files expected to go online in 2012.
Things are apt to change for people who aren't living in a foreign country but merely travelling there, as well. The new laws aim to protect people who are booking individual travel segments online themselves, by offering package insurance covering hotel as well as flight even if they haven't been booked as a package through a travel agency.
Moreover, airlines are being asked to pay fines when their flights are very late or cancelled - a practice they currently often avoid.
Author: Jennifer Abramsohn (dpa, AFP, epd)
Editor: Nancy Isenson