The European Union planted its flag in cyberspace Wednesday when the ".eu" Internet domain name opened for business. Until now, Europeans had to choose between a national domain such as ".fr" for France or a global one like ".com" often seen as American. EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said she expected several hundred thousand sign-ups for ".eu" in the first few days. National registries in some countries, such as Belgium, home to the EU headquarters in Brussels, are offering promotions to persuade Internet users to stay local.
But do Europeans want a ".eu." domain name? Some business groups are uncertain how popular the new domain name will be, while national registries are worried they will lose business. Europeans have an EU flag, an EU passport and an EU anthem, but many have a lukewarm attitude to European integration, as French and Dutch "no" votes to a new Constitution showed earlier this year.
Richard More O'Ferrall, spokesman for the EU small business lobby UEAPME, said the real level of interest will become evident as the application process goes on.
Carsten Dannoehl of EU business lobby UNICE, however, said the new name was a European label that companies wanted. "Before we had 'made in Germany', now we have 'made in the European Union,"' he said.
Giovanni Seppia, general manager of the European registry umbrella group CENTR, said several countries have launched marketing campaigns to promote their domain names. He would not give specifics, but Belgium's Belgacom SA is running a half-price offer to the first year of new ".be" registrations.
Seppia said Belgium, the home to the "capital of Europe" Brussels, is likely to house the most ".eu" applications as many EU-wide companies are located there. UEAPME was one of the groups queuing up to register a ".eu" name on the first day. More O'Ferrall said the ".eu" domain would help promote European identity and boost Europe's slow moves into e-commerce.
The new domain names can be used immediately but only a selected few are allowed to register their names during this sunrise period. Beginning Wednesday, only registered trademark owners, government agencies and companies could register. On Feb. 2, ".eu" opens up to family names. General registration begins April 7 on a first-come, first-served basis, but only to people who live in the EU and to companies with headquarters or branches inside the 25-nation bloc. I.L.