Euro bureaucrats tie up .eu in red tape to stop Brexit Brits snatching back their web domains

Exit sparks worst tendencies in anonymous rule-makers

European Union bureaucrats are turning their namesake .eu top-level domain into a red-tape nightmare.

Back in May, the European Commission stunned the DNS community – including the company that runs the .eu registry, EURid – by announcing it would scrap 300,000 .eu domain names owned by UK residents due to the country's planned exit from the union.

Rather than backtrack on the idea, however, Brexit appears to have spurred greater awareness of dot-EU among bureaucrats, who, predictably enough, have decided that their internet space would benefit from more rules.

The .eu registry has even made its way into the official State of the Union document [PDF], along with various other digital single market plans, listed as the second highest priority of the union in 2018 after jobs and growth.

"Implementation and functioning of the .eu top-level domain name," is included alongside copyright, cybersecurity, and privacy reforms.

As a result, a raft of changes [PDF], including the requirement that someone provide proof of EU citizenship, and that the registry operator verify that proof, before being allowed to buy a .eu domain, have been added to a series of proposed amendments to the contract for the registry.

"The existence of a specific domain name for the European Union under a very clear and identifiable common label is an important and valuable building block for the European online identity," reads an apparent explanation for all the unnecessary restrictions that follow.

Free rules!

Additional red tape includes: a new ability to "suspend" rather than block domains at the behest of as-yet-unwritten rules; greater limitations on domain transfers; future changes in registration rules built around the vague concept of whether specific domain names "safeguard Union values"; and a nonsensical requirement that the .eu registry operator "promote the attractiveness of .eu TLD across the Union and the world to ensure its competitiveness"; and so on and so forth.

In short, the rule-writers have been let loose on the .eu registry, and have come up with a dozen different ways they think it can be improved by… well, they don't know yet but when they figure it out, they'll be able to write them into the contract.

The most significant change of requiring someone to prove they are an EU citizen, and have the registry operator check its validity, goes directly against long-held domain name norms. Those registries that have required proof of eligibility in the past have largely dropped it in the face of ever-growing competition in the market.

Registries with strict eligibility requirements always have smaller numbers of registrations thanks to the additional cost and hassle to both the end user and the companies that register domain names on their behalf. Rather than pay more or jump through additional hurdles, people and businesses simply register a name under a different top-level dot-word.

The DNS industry understands this dynamic all too well and, we are told, has repeatedly explained it to the European Commission, but has so far gone unheard.

Brexit, and the European Commission's aggressive response to it, appears to have been the inspiration behind the proposed changes. Not only will all UK-owned .eu domains eventually be axed – going directly against long-held norms – but the bureaucrats are going to make sure that no one in the UK can sneak in the backdoor and keep their .eu website up afterwards.

But.. but...

We understand that the current operator of .eu, EURid, as well as its industry advisory board, have formally written to the EC to explain why its Brexit-based position is a bad idea, but so far the only response has been the proposed amendments that double-down on the plan.

Petty? Yes. Necessary? No. Most internet registries recognize that their value lies in promoting their inherent brand rather than trying to create a walled garden. If someone wants a .de domain, it's because they are invested in reaching German internet users; likewise .uk and the United Kingdom.

It is no small irony that while suggesting changes that would almost certainly shrink the size of the .eu registry by anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent, costing the EU millions in revenue, the commission boasts that "the .eu TLD is the eighth largest country code TLD in the world with over 3.8 million registrations in 2017."

It's also noteworthy that additional requirements will be delivered through the use of "delegated acts" instead of implementing acts: something that will hamstring whoever runs the registry while make it harder to react to constant ongoing changes in the DNS market.

In short, civil servants have decided to insert themselves into a dynamic market based on an ideological concept of how the internet works by adding unnecessary new rules over the objections of people actually working in that market.

It's exactly this sort of nonsense that drove many in the UK to vote for Brexit in the first place. ®

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