.eu is the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the European Union (EU). Launched on 7 December 2005, the domain is available for organisations in and residents of EU member states. The TLD is administered by EURid, a consortium originally consisting of the national ccTLD registry operators of Belgium, Sweden, and Italy, joined later by the national registry operator of the Czech Republic. Trademark owners were able to submit registrations through a sunrise period, in an effort to prevent cybersquatting. Full registration started on 7 April 2006.
The .eu TLD was approved by ICANN on 22 March 2005 and put in the Internet root zone on 2 May 2005. Even though the EU is not a country (it is a sui generis intergovernmental and supranational organisation), there are precedents of issuing top-level domains to other entities—e.g. .nato. See also GeoTLD.
.eu.int was the subdomain most used by the European Commission and the European Parliament, based on the .int generic top-level domain (gTLD) for international bodies, until 9 May 2006. The .eu domain (ccTLD) was launched in December 2005, and because of this most .eu.int domain names changed to .europa.eu on Europe day, 9 May 2006.
The Sunrise Period was broken into two phases. The first phase, which began on 7 December 2005 was to facilitate applications by registrants with prior rights based on trademarks and geographic names. The second phase began on 7 February 2006 and covered company, trade and personal names. In the case of all Sunrise applications, the application needed to be accompanied by documents proving the claim to ownership of a certain right. The decision was then made by PricewaterhouseCoopers Belgium, which had been chosen as the validation agent by EURid.
On 7 February 2006, the registry was opened for company, trade and personal names. In the first 15 minutes, there were 27,949 total applications, and after one hour, 71,235.
On 7 April 2006 at 11 am CET registration became possible for non-trademark holders. Most people requesting domains had asked their registrars to put their requested domains in a queue, ensuring the best chance to register a domain. This way more than 700,000 domains were registered during the first 4 hours of operation. Some large registrars like Go Daddy and small registrars like Dotster suffered from long queues and unresponsiveness, allowing people to ‘beat the queue’ by registering through a registrar that had already processed its queue. By August 2006, 2 Million .eu domains had been registered. It is now the fourth-largest ccTLD in Europe, after .de, .uk and .nl, and is one of the largest internationally.
Bob Parsons, CEO and co-founder of Go Daddy, criticized the landrush process designed by EURid. Particularly, he condemned the use of shell companies by some registrars. In his blog, he stated “These companies, instead of only registering their real active registrars, created hundreds of new “phantom” registrars.” Parsons cited a group of about 400 companies, all with similar address and contact information based in New York, each registered as an LLC; in his opinion, these were phantom registrars “created to hijack the .EU landrush.”
These “phantom” registrars effectively had hundreds of opportunities of registering a domain whereas a genuine registrar effectively only had one opportunity to register the same domain. Thus some registrants were crowded out of the .eu landrush process and many generic .eu domain names are now owned by the companies using these “phantom” registrars.
Patrik Lindén, spokesman for EURid at the time, denied the allegations by Parsons, stating that “[EURid] verified that each registrar was an individual legal entity. Each had to sign an agreement with us, and prepay €10,000.” Parsons didn’t dispute that each registrar was a separate legal entity, but noted that creating such entities was trivial: “Mr. Linden seemed proud that the EURid registry verified that each applicant was a legal entity before it was accredited. Take a moment and think about what that means. You can form a “legal entity” for $50 – an LLC – and you are good to go. Is that what we want a registry to do? Don’t we want them instead to make sure that the organization it allows to provide end-users with its domain names – especially Europe’s very own domain name – are actually in the domain name registration business?”
The EURid organisation investigated some allegations of abuse, and in July 2006 announced the suspension of over 74,000 domain names and that they were suing 400 registrars for breach of contract. The status of the domains was changed from ACTIVE to ON-HOLD. This meant that the domains could not be moved or have their ownership changed. The registrars also lost their access to the EURid registration database meaning that they could no longer register .eu domain names. The legal action relates to the practice of Domain name warehousing, whereby large numbers of domain names are registered, often by registrars, with the intention of subsequently selling them on to third parties. EURid rules state that applications for domains can only be made after a legitimate application has been made to a registrar. The 74,000 applications were made in the name of only three Cyprus registered companies— Ovidio Ltd, Fausto Ltd and Gabino Ltd.
The affected registrars, joined in the action by the affected registrants obtained a provisional order from the Court of First Instance in Brussels, Belgium on 27 September 2006. The court ordered EURid to release the blocked domain names or else pay a fine of €25,000 per hour for each affected domain name. EURid complied with the court order and changed the status of the domains from ON HOLD to ACTIVE and restored EURid registration database access to the affected registrars.
The main legal action, that of EURid seeking the registrar agreements between EURid and the registrars in question to be dissolved has still to be heard.
The main users of .eu domains are websites with pan-European or cross-border intentions and audiences. It is often used to emphasise the ‘European identity’ of a website, as opposed to the website having a strictly national ccTLD or global “dotcom” nature. Alternative (opportunistic) uses include Basque webpages (as the initial letters of Euskadi or the language Euskara) and Romanian, Portuguese, or Galician personal sites, as eu is the equivalent of the English pronoun ‘I’ in those languages.
In most countries of the EU, the national ccTLDs have the major share of the market with the remainder spread over .com/.net/.org/.info/.biz. As a result of this, .eu has had an uphill battle to gain a significant share of these national markets. The dominant players tend to be the national ccTLD and .com. The other TLDs such as .net, .org and to a lesser extent .info and .biz have progressively smaller shares of these national markets.
Over one year after the launch of .eu (5 July 2007), the number of .de domains registered was 11,079,557 according to the German .de registry’s statistics page, while number of German owned .eu domains according to EURid’s statistics page was 796,561. The number of .uk domains registered was 6,038,732 according to .uk registry Nominet’s statistics page. The number of apparently UK owned .eu domains was 344,584.