The rules behind the .eu top level domain – specifically Regulation 733/2002 – state that only persons, companies or organisations based in the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) can register .eu domains.
This would suggest, as the European Scrutiny Committee certainly did in January 2017, that “By default, when the UK leaves the European Union, and any transition period ends, UK persons and organisations that have registered .eu domain names will no longer be legally eligible for these registrations. 340,000 UK users potentially stand to be affected by this development.”
DCMS’s explanatory memorandum on the domain’s status to the European Scrutiny Committee merely quotes EURID, the .eu domain authority, as saying that, “as the next steps have still not been determined and the political and legal processes have not yet been initiated, note that no action will be taken against .eu or .ею domain names that have been registered by residents in UK…When further details are known about the timing and details of a UK exit, the European Commission will instruct EURid on how to proceed. We will continue to keep all our stakeholders fully informed.”
On 28 March the EC confirmed that “as of the withdrawal date, undertakings and organisations that are established in the United Kingdom but not in the EU, and natural persons who reside in the United Kingdom will no longer be eligible to register .eu domain names or, if they are .eu registrants, to renew .eu domain names registered before the withdrawal date.”
In July 2018 the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons reported (.pdf, sorry) that Margot James has informed them that:
- the Government had engaged with various UK business organisations and trade associations to ask whether any of their members had raised the issue of EU exit and .eu, but that all of those organisations that replied said that none of their members had raised this issue;
- the Government was still considering its negotiating position on this issue; and
- large UK multinationals with multiple offices across the European Economic Area (EEA) could retain their use of .eu, but “for solely UK-based businesses, small or otherwise, and UK-based citizens, it is possible that they may not be able to retain the use of a .eu domain in the absence of a post-exit agreement on this issue”.
The Committee asked the Minister to clarify “a summary of the extent to which Estonian e-residency may offer a solution to UK businesses which currently use a .eu domain name, and whether this would have negative implications for the UK or not”.
In the meantime, the EC has published a preparedness notice on .eu domains.
In September 2018 the ESC cleared the issue from further scrutiny based on Government’s assertion that it will not seek continued eligibility of UK stakeholders for .eu domains.
That report noted that ICANN have begun preparations to revoke over 300,000 .eu domains (9% of the total in existence) from UK registrants, and that the issue of Estonian e-residency should be left to individual businesses.
In December 2018 DCMS published guidance on .eu domains in the event of a “No Deal” Brexit. It suggested that domain holders should transfer their digital assets to other domains, such as .com or .co.uk, so that they do not lose their sites and email. This guidance was replaced in March 2019 (below).
In February 2019 EURid, the European domain registry, published a notice on .eu domains owned by UK residents. It sets out two scenarios: .eu domains under a “no deal”, and .eu domains following a transitional period ending in December 2020. In a no-deal scenario, registrants will have until 30 May to update their domain contact details to a legally registered entity in one of the EU27 member states. The registration of domains not claimed or updated will be revoked, and the domains will be made available for public registration. In a planned transition scenario, the revocations for non-updated domains would not begin until 1 January 2022.
In March 2019 DCMS released updated guidance (which they have mislabeled, as of this writing, as guidance on the-ecommerce directive) reflecting the EURid notice detailed above.
In July 2019 the European Commission issued updated guidance (.pdf) to note that after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, EU citizens resident in the UK wiill be able to keep their .eu domains.
The final pre-Brexit guidance published by EURid notes that:
- On 24 October, one week before the UK leaves the EU, domain registrars will begin notifying UK holders of .eu domains that they will no longer be in compliance with domain rules. Holders who wish to retain their .eu domains will then have until 1 January 2020 to update their contact data from an address in Britain to the address of a valid legal presence in any EU member state.
- UK citizens resident in the EU who hold .eu domain names, and likewise, EU citizens resident in the UK who hold .eu domain names, will need to follow the same procedure and update their contact details to an EU member state.
- At the stroke of midnight on 1 January 2020, all .eu domains still registered to UK addresses will be immediately withdrawn. Registrars will have no obligations to UK domain holders over any content stored on those .eu sites, or any business operations taking place on them, which are no longer accessible to the public.
- One year after withdrawal – meaning 1 November 2020 – all rescinded .eu domains will become available again for public registration.
The guidance was updated in June to note that until the end of the transition period, UK citizens may continue to register .eu domains. DCMS has also issued its own guidance (July 2020).
Despite all that, government continues to participate in the EU’s proposal to reorganise the regulatory framework for the administration of the .eu domain, with the most recent developments occurring in October 2018.
This blog post tallies some interesting stats on the dramatic decline of UK registrations of .eu domains leading up to Brexit.