The European Commission has, yet again, changed its position on who can have a .eu domain after Brexit.
In what we believe is the fourth such dictat – although we may have missed a few – Brussels bureaucrats have now decided [PDF] that if you are an EU citizen living in the UK you can have a .eu domain.
That announcement follows a definitive decision in January that if you were an EU citizen living in the UK you could NOT have a .eu domain. There was to be a strict two-month cancellation period for any .eu domain registered to a UK address, even if the owner was a European citizen, it ruled.
The EC was so confident in that position that it even refused to provide an appeals process for the scheme. Why should it? The issue was cut-and-dried. Until yesterday that is, when it changed its mind and decided the opposite was true: EU citizens can have a .eu domain no matter where they live.
The decision was almost certainly thanks to the UK government effectively throwing up its hands and telling .eu domain owners in the UK that they should go get their own legal advice about what to do next. Presumably that's exactly what they did and it didn't look good for the EC.
The poor, long-suffering organization that runs the .eu registry under contract to the EC, EURid, announced the decision on its website on Friday morning. It summarized: "At the time of the UK withdrawal, EU citizens residents in UK may still keep their .eu domain name(s) thanks to the changes of the .eu eligibility criteria that as of 19 October 2019 will see the citizenship criteria added to the residency criteria."
The way that the EC has dealt with the question of .eu domains is indicative of the broader issues that led so many Brits to vote for Brexit in the first place: boldly stated bad decisions made without proper consultation and built on ignorance that are then subsequently changed by equally confident changes after flaws in the first decision are highlighted. See also the lies about bendy bananas and chilled kippers that helps fuel the Brexit mess.
Change begats change
Those changes then create more problems, resulting in yet more confident positions that everyone then has to try to work around. In this case, a new criterion on citizenship had to be added in order to make the previous policy changes possible, which in turn, make the most recent policy decision legally questionable.
Euro bureaucrats tie up .eu in red tape to stop Brexit Brits snatching back their web domainsREAD MORE
At some point, we may end up with a coherent policy for what happens to the European Union's namesake top-level domain following Brexit, but don't count on it.
It's almost as if the internet infrastructure industry – which has dealt with the issue of expiring domains and even entire registries for decades – understands how the DNS work better than the grey suits do.
If the EC had bothered to consult with anyone in that industry – or even the company it contracts to actually run .eu – about what would be the best approach, they would have been told in very clear terms that the best thing to do is leave the domains alone.
The domain name system (DNS) is a fairly fluid setup that tends to work under its own steam: if there is value to someone in having a .eu domain, they will have one, if there isn't – or if that value diminishes over time – then they will simply let it drop.
The truth is it doesn't really matter if someone with a geographic identifier in their domain name actually lives there. They only gain benefit from it if they focus on that geographic component. For example, a .uk domain is pretty worthless if it is run by a company that doesn't offer its good or services in the UK. If they want to register one and pay the cost of it that's on them, but they'll only benefit if they figure out how to make it work for the broader UK.
The same goes for the EU and .eu. Incidentally, 10 per cent of .eu domains are registered in the UK, meaning that the EC is actually undercutting its own revenues from the .eu registry by imposing a bad policy.
Crime and punishment
Rather than view things through the correct lens, which is that any .eu domain is a vote in favor of the European Union, the petty bureaucrats have gone for exclusionary approach – imagining, presumably, that withdrawing .eu domains will enact some kind of punishment or, conversely, that there is some kind of special benefit to be allowed to have a .eu domain.
Which is, frankly, idiotic when you consider that every domain is available on every browser to every individual no matter where they happen to be physically located. The problem with trying to impose precise rules on a system that is designed not to be easily constrained is that you have to expend a huge amount of energy and effort to make it happen.
And that only gets worse if you try to take domains away, rather than prevent them from being registered in the first place. Countless registries have discovered that the benefit is simply not worth the cost.
But the EC continues to persist in its belief that it can keep tweaking the rules until it ends up in the right place, while at the same time failing to realize that it is undercutting confidence in the .eu. registry.
The constantly changing rules have served to highlight that .eu domains are subject to arbitrary, politically motivated decisions. What business wants to build their company and brand on that when they can simply register a different domain that operates under far more stable rules?