Any Brit based in the UK, and not in the EU, will have their .eu domain taken away from them on January 1, 2021, according to the latest iteration of rules published by the TLD's operator EURid.
The revised fine-print was published on Tuesday, and is the fourth attempt by Brussels' bureaucrats to show Brexiteers what’s what by taking away their .eu domains – even though the decision has already cut income to the registry and undermined its standing.
The rules have been repeatedly changed as the shambolic Brexit process wound its way through the British Parliament, with date changes and eligibility criteria revised multiple times. In October 2019, three months after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, EURid put plans to take away .eu domains from people in Blighty on ice.
But with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit looming large, the issue has reared its ugly head yet again. The latest version of the dot-EU rules is at least coherent:
United Kingdom undertakings or organisations established in the United Kingdom but not in the Union, United Kingdom citizens who are not resident of a Union Member State, and United Kingdom residents who are not Union citizens will no longer be eligible to hold a .eu domain name.
So, any British citizen or company that is based in the UK will not be allowed to register a .eu domain from January 1, 2021 – the same date than any existing .eu domains held by Brits in the UK will be deemed ineligible and will be “withdrawn" and effectively removed from the internet; websites or email relying on the domains will not work.
One year after that, on January 1, 2022, any withdrawn domains will be released for general registration, effectively making them available to anyone in the European Union.
The withdrawal will not apply to any EU citizens based in the UK, or any UK citizens based in the EU, although all of them will be required to either prove their membership of the union or shift their registration address to somewhere in the European Union.
Easy enough to get around
There is also a significant loophole for anyone who values their .eu domain highly. They can set up in the EU and change their domain’s registration details to that address. If there is sufficient demand, it’s not hard to see how a variety of companies could set up a service to allow people to set up an EU address for little cost. But perhaps the bigger question: will anyone bother, especially when a .uk or .com address is highly recognizable.
And the even bigger question is: why bother to take .eu domains away at all? The decision to withdraw domains goes against a long tradition in the domain name world to leave existing domains be, in large part because it is never worth the hassle screwing around with them. A web address is still just a web address on the internet.
Clearly Europe's bureaucrats are convinced that a .eu domain is a significant benefit of being within the European Union; the reality, however, is that it is minimal, especially with the release of over a thousand new top-level domains in recent years.
Brits have so far voted with their feet: the number of .eu domains registered by UK residents has fallen by 46 per cent in the past year. In the second quarter of 2018, there were 304,133 UK-based .eu domain names; in October 2019, just 162,287. Those numbers will fall further as the expiration dates for individual domains come up between now and the end of the year, reducing the registry’s income by hundreds of thousands of euros.
The main beneficiary of the .eu registry business? The European Union itself. Only Brussels could invent a self-shooting gun. ®