What Europe’s New QES Regulation Means for Your Business

In April 2023, the European Commission published a series of reforms to streamline the merger control procedures under the European Union Merger Regulation (EUMR). The aim of the regulation, which went into effect on September 1, 2023, is to reduce the burdensome aspects of the notification processes under the EUMR.

One of these key reforms is introducing a fully electronic notification system, which replaces the previous requirement that notifications must be submitted in hard copy. The EUMR explicitly recognizes Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) as the only type of electronic signature used for such notifications, stipulating that “going forward, the transmission of documents to and from the Commission … shall take place in principle through digital means.”

What is Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)?

In the European Union (EU), a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) complying with the requirements set out in Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 (“eIDAS”) is recognized as the most secure form of digital signature. It requires face-to-face identification (or the equivalent) and is the only form of electronic signature considered equivalent to a handwritten signature under EU law across all 27 EU member states.

Post-Brexit, the U.K. has also adopted its own equivalent to eIDAS: an amended form of the EU eIDAS regulation that retains many key aspects of it.

Under U.K. and EU eIDAS, QES is a valid, legally binding digital signature that offers the highest level of trust through a face-to-face or equivalent identity verification process by a qualified trust service provider (QTSP) and creates a digital certificate with an electronic signature device. When contested in court, using a QES shifts the burden of proof to the challenging party.

The impact of the new QES regulations

Although the new reforms to the EUMR only affect a limited range of transactions, these changes can be viewed as the proverbial “canary in a coal mine.” Since the law now clearly stipulates that certain types of documents must be submitted electronically, it reflects the market's rapid evolution toward widespread acceptance of electronic and digital document workflows. Just as importantly, these reforms signal that the long-time challenges of verifying a signer’s identity in the context of an electronic signature have effectively been solved and that QES is generally recognized as a legal form of signature every bit as valid as a handwritten “wet ink” signature. According to the European Commission, changes like these will help businesses submit documents more conveniently and swiftly, eliminating the need for paper.

And more change is around the corner. The long-awaited revisions to the original 2014 eIDAS regulation (commonly known as “eIDAS 2.0”) are expected to be adopted before the end of 2023. The changes will include increased uniformity of electronic trust services throughout Europe and extending such services to include coverage of electronic registered mail and electronic certificates for authentication.

For international firms that do business in the EU and U.K., this is big news. You can expect QES to increasingly become the norm for many routine commercial transactions. Moreover, as in the case of merger control transactions, QES will likely become the de facto accepted electronic signature for sensitive and high-risk transactions and, in many cases, will be required.

Fortunately, obtaining QES is not nearly as onerous as it once was. Thanks to advances in AI technology, the QES process is cheaper, faster and more efficient than ever. Using QES can help streamline documentation workflows—reducing costs and helping to accelerate the document and agreement lifecycle.

A faster, more streamlined QES workflow

Until recently, to sign with a QES, signers had to provide their physical government-issued ID in person or set up a live video appointment with a certified agent. While QES provides higher identity assurance and risk mitigation, that extra step was cumbersome and time-consuming. Without access to a digital identity verification process that matched or exceeded a face-to-face experience, signers were subject to a poor user experience, agreements took longer to sign and business transactions were delayed.

As the combination of digital signature and ID verification are the keys to a trusted QES process, you need remote identification equivalent to face-to-face identity verification to deliver the highest levels of trust and security. That’s why Docusign introduced ID Verification Premier. Our first offering within this tier is Docusign ID Verification for EU Qualified.

Through AI technology—including advanced liveness detection and selfie videos—ID Verification for EU Qualified lets organizations securely and remotely verify signer identity in minutes as part of the QES attainment process. It’s like meeting face to face but without the inconveniences of in-person or video appointments.

Docusign is a QTSP in the EU and, as such, is authorized to issue Advanced and Qualified signatures across the EU in accordance with the EU eIDAS regulation. ID Verification for EU Qualified is built directly into the eSignature workflow and meets QES identification requirements in the EU and the U.K. Signers enjoy a streamlined identification process, and organizations achieve faster QES agreements for their most important documents.

Learn more about identity verification for e-signatures and QES from Docusign.