This is a guest blog from our partners TradePeers Ltd. Trade Peers is a specialised market-access service for medium-sized businesses in the UK.
Trade Peers founder, Sietske de Groot has over 15 years of experience in EU and government affairs and was the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) lead on EU and International Affairs. She is a firm advocate of internationalisation and digitisation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and for a number of years represented the interests of UK firms in Brussels.
No .eu for British businesses?
In April 2006 I registered my first .eu domain name. I now have several. Little did I know that I could lose them through a constitutional change called UK EU Exit.
The Commission published a notice on .eu domain names in the UK and it looks like I will not be able to renew these once they expire. However, my business is active in the European market and a .eu extension puts me on the map. It lets Google know that I am targeting that region, it is a good alternative to .com (of which fewer names are available), and it ensures a substantial online presence. However, the Commission’s policy for the use of the .eu domain by businesses from ‘third countries’ will close off that online real estate. Once they have expired, competitors with an establishment in the EU can snatch my .eu names, leaving me with what is left of .com or .co.uk domain names. What can be done about this?
As with many EU exit issues, examining the nitty-gritty of policy documents is necessary to understand the likely business impact. Bear with me. The Commission notice says that EU rules on .eu domain names will no longer apply to the UK from the day it withdraws from the bloc. From then on, businesses, organisations and individuals in the UK cannot renew or buy a domain name with a .eu extension.
So-called Country Code Top Level Domain Names (extensions such as .uk, .be) are managed by ICANN and IANA, the organisations that oversee global IP address allocation, but countries and territories are free to require a local presence for the use of their extension. This is the case, for example, for .de and .ca, but also for .eu.
Losing access to .eu will be the consequence of the UK becoming a non-EU country. However, this will impact the region’s most mature online economy, with some UK online retailers targeting EU countries by using .eu. Loss of access will force UK companies, organisations and individuals with .eu names to shrink their online presence. In general, it has become easier to get domain names, and not more stringent. As far as I know, similar changes to eligibility for extensions have not happened before, and I wonder what ICANN/IANA’s view is on the use of .eu domain names in EU exited Britain. My hope is that their UK representative has raised this issue with them.
However, I fear that little can be done. The Government has said that the UK will leave the Digital Single Market, and the EU is very protective of its .eu extension. This is because it is not simply an address on the world wide web; .eu is also an identity. Country Code Top Level Domain Names were not a topic for discussion during the trade talks between the EU and Canada. As things stand now, there is little chance this will be on the EU-UK negotiation table, but you never know.
What can UK businesses do to retain their .eu domain?
To preserve .eu domain names post-Brexit, a business can do the following:
- Register and renew .eu domain names as soon as possible to the day the UK will be fully outside the EU (as things stand now, this will be 31 December 2020)
- Find a registrar that can provide your business with a local address
- Set up your business in an EU country (e.g. online in Estonia via the e-residency scheme, or any other EU country that is appropriate for your business activities)
You can also embrace the changes and rebrand. Why not experiment with extensions such as .boutique .business .biz .buy or .buz, or maybe .guru anyone?
As to my own .eu domain names, some of them will be re-homed in the EU, and others will get exciting new extensions.
Sietske de Groot