Sep 25, 2020

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From: Nikola Hanžek

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Category: Newsroom, Corporate and Commerical Law, News

Electronic signature in Republic of Serbia

Electronic signature in Republic of Serbia (in eyes of strangers)
Too big of a gap between obstacles and goal

In omnipresent digitalization process which takes place in our lives as a necessary phenomenon in the correspondence between natural and legal persons, as well as in their correspondence with state authorities, an electronic signature appeared.

An electronic signature is there to exclude the possibility of standing in the queue for hours, for example in tax administration, where you have to sign a pile of paper and forms with your own hands, and you don't have a pen at that very moment! The electronic signature allows you to sign all tax returns, forms and documents from the armchair via the E-government portal, to make payments and approve transfer orders, etc., without delay and without going to the bank.

When we say electronic signature, we in front of all think about the qualified electronic signature, which is also named electronic certificate.

An electronic certificate is a document that confirms the connection between the data that verifies the electronic signature and the identity of the person who is a signatory, and the characteristic "qualified" is obtained because it is issued by a certification body authorized to issue these certificates.

An electronic certificate is a document that confirms the connection between the data that verifies the electronic signature and the identity of the person who is a signatory, and the characteristic "qualified" is obtained because it is issued by a certification body authorized to issue these certificates. ("Official Gazette of RS" No. 94/2017 of October 19, 2017 Zakon), (hereinafter: the Law) which entered into force on the 27th October 2017, the legal basis for the use of electronic certificate was made, and the legal regulations were updated to some extent.

Based on this Law, appropriate bylaws have been adopted for its elaboration and more detailed application, as follows:

  • Rulebook on the content and manner of keeping the Register of Qualified Trust Services ("Official Gazette of RS" No. 31/18 dated April 11, 2018);
  • Decree on detailed conditions for the provision of qualified services of trust (("Official Gazette of RS" No. 37/18 of 10 May 2018);
  • Rulebook on detailed conditions that must be met by qualified electronic certificates ("Official Gazette of RS" No. 34/18 and 82/18 of April 20, 2018).

Certification bodies that issue electronic qualified signatures as well as trusted service providers (all natural and legal persons that enable electronic identification and enable reliable business activity between two or more parties and guarantee the authenticity of data as electronic identification providers) are obliged to process and store data in accordance with Law on data protection (“ Official Gazette of RS” No. 87/2018 from the day 13th November 2018).

An electronic certificate represents a reliable means of identification as there is a presumption of undeniability in relation to it, which means that only the signatory can activate the means of signing and a valid electronic certificate guarantees the link between the signatory and the verification data (data generated in certain document and related to certain person).

We can state that in our country has been formally legally created a secure basis for the application and use of the electronic certificate.

However, in relation to one group of persons, there is a gap (not legal, but factual) that prevents them from having greater access to the electronic certificate and its more efficient use. These are natural persons, non-residents, who often appear as legal representatives of legal entities, both domestic and foreign.

Foreigners in the Republic of Serbia have access to the so-called a "truncated electronic certificate" that allows them to sign a limited number of documents. If the user of the electronic certificate is a non-resident natural person, legal representative of a resident legal entity, he primarily signs the financial reports and supporting documents of the legal entity in which he is a legal representative, as well as reports for statistical and other purposes, in accordance with Articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Law on Accounting ("Official Gazette RS„, No. 30/2018 of April 20, 2018).

On the other hand, non-residents who have an ID card and an assigned personal identification number on the basis of a regulated stay in the Republic of Serbia can obtain an electronic certificate from the Certification Body of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, which can be used for full electronic signature.

The main problem in issuing electronic certificates to non-residents is the inadequacy of services for issuing certification bodies and their availability to foreigners. Non-residents in the Republic of Serbia can submit a request and initiate the procedure of obtaining an electronic certificate before the following certification bodies:

  • Chamber of Commerce of Serbia
  • Post of Serbia
  • HALCOM
  • E-SMART SYSTEMS DOO
  • Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (only if the non-resident has an identity card as a foreigner)

The topic of this text refers primarily to the problems of non-residents when initiating the procedure of obtaining an electronic certificate before state authorities, since HALCOM and E-SMART SYSTEMS DOO, to some extent have solved certain problems that occur in practice.

The largest number of non-residents choose the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia as the certification body in which they will obtain the electronic certificate, due to the possibility of completing the entire procedure online. The first problem that non-residents encounter when submitting a request (before that it is necessary to register on the PKS portal) is that the entire procedure is in Serbian without the possibility for the site and procedure to be in at least English.

Therefore, in order for a foreigner to obtain an electronic certificate before the Serbian Chamber of Commerce as an authorized certification body, which on the other hand represents one of the most respectable state bodies in the field of economy in the Republic of Serbia, it is necessary to know the Serbian language. In practice, this is very rare.

There is a possibility that the Request for the issuance of an electronic certificate to the SCC will be submitted through an authorized attorney with very strict formal conditions regarding the content of the power of attorney.

Another problem is the payment of a fee / fee for the production of an electronic certificate, which is almost impossible to make from abroad, so a non-resident must also hire an authorized person in the Republic of Serbia for this purpose.

The electronic certificate, when finally, after overcoming all these technical obstacles, is made by the SCC, the non-resident can take over only and exclusively in person at the SCC premises at a specific time. At the time of the COVID-19 epidemic (but also before the outbreak), this condition was an almost impossible mission for foreigners.

It should be emphasized that the validity period of this electronic certificate is related to the validity period of the non-resident's passport, which means that if you take out the electronic certificate and your passport expires in a few months, you will have to go through this whole procedure again.

With the other (somewhat state) certification body, the Post of Serbia, there is an even bigger problem because the entire documentation submitted with the Request for issuance of an electronic certificate (3 completed and self-signed copies of the Service Certification Body Agreement for qualified electronic certificates for legal entities, 3 completed and self-signed copies of the Annex to the Contract on Provision of Services of the Post Certification Body for Qualified Electronic Certificates, Decision on Registration of Legal Entity in APR, Copy of OP form and Quality photocopy of identification document for the person for whom the electronic certificate is required) must be submitted in person in the Post of Serbia because the submission of documentation is directly a condition for the issuance of a pro forma invoice for the payment of fees and charges for the issuance of electronic certificates.

With the other (somewhat state) certification body, the Post of Serbia, there is an even bigger problem because the entire documentation submitted with the Request for issuance of an electronic certificate (3 completed and self-signed copies of the Service Certification Body Agreement for qualified electronic certificates for legal entities, 3 completed and self-signed copies of the Annex to the Contract on Provision of Services of the Post Certification Body for Qualified Electronic Certificates, Decision on Registration of Legal Entity in APR, Copy of OP form and Quality photocopy of identification document for the person for whom the electronic certificate is required) must be submitted in person in the Post of Serbia because the submission of documentation is directly a condition for the issuance of a pro forma invoice for the payment of fees and charges for the issuance of electronic certificates.

If you look at the goal of electronic signature, which is easier to sign documents remotely with a few clicks on a computer or smartphone, then certainly the procedure for obtaining an electronic signature before state authorities in Serbia is established contrary to that goal.

It is necessary, in addition to the existence of detailed and complete legal regulations, to establish practical mechanisms to facilitate the acquisition of electronic certificates, in order to achieve the full meaning of their existence. It is especially necessary in the process of adjusting the positive regulations and procedures of the Republic of Serbia with the regulations of the European Union in the accession process, to look at positive examples from practice that can contribute to non-residents as legal representatives and managers of domestic companies can obtain electronic certificates.