The European Commission last week (26 June) announced plans to make it possible to register websites under the .eu domain using Cyrillic and Greek scripts, allowing individual and business users alike to use .eu in all 23 official EU languages.
When the new rules come into force “later this year”, it will become possible to display special characters in central European languages as well as produce websites in the Bulgarian, Greek and Cypriot alphabets.
At present, all .eu domains must be written using the letters a-z and the digits 0-9. But this poses problems for speakers of languages like Czech and Lithuanian, which use special characters, as well as Bulgarian and Greek, which use different alphabets altogether.
Announcing the EU executive’s decision to change the rules, Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said it was “only natural” that “the domain names chosen by Europeans be permitted to be as diverse as Europe itself”.
“This is why we have decided that .eu should become available in all alphabets used in the member states and allow for all characters used in the 23 official languages of the European Union,” Reding said.
Until now, Czechs have only been able to use 27 of their alphabet’s 42 characters, and Lithuanians 23 out of 32. The new rules will also make it possible to display characters correctly in languages like French, Spanish and Danish.
“Opting for .eu is a very simple way for businesses to show that they are established in one of the 27 EU countries and subject to the high standards of EU legislation, particularly when it comes to data protection, consumer rules or the EU’s financial market regulations,” said Reding, outlining the advantages of using the domain.
Registration slow, but still growing
Meanwhile, new figures published by the EU executive last week showed that the number of .eu domain names registered grew by 11% in both 2007 and 2008.
At present, just over three million .eu websites are in use, but figures vary widely from country to country, with just 9,578 Bulgarian websites registered due to the language restrictions.
Moreover, growth has slowed significantly in the last two years, with just 300,000 .eu websites registered in 2007 and 2008 compared with 2.5m in 2006, the year the domain was launched.
Although .eu is now the ninth most-used domain name in the world, it trails far behind others like .com (79.5m), .de (12.6m), .net (12.1m), .org (7.5m) and .co.uk (7.4m).
Poor growth in the last two years led the Commission to slash registration fees from an initial €10 to €5 in 2007, and again to €4 in 2008. Following the price reductions, registration rates soared in East European countries like Poland (+149%) and Lithuania (142%, 2006-2008 figures).
Germany has seen the highest number of .eu registrations so far with just under 1m websites, with the Netherlands (415,000) and the UK (378,000) occupying second and third position respectively.
The website of the incoming Swedish EU Presidency, www.se2009.eu, is the first to opt for the new European address instead of a national one.
The Commission said it expects the new rules to “further strengthen the attractiveness of Europe’s top-level domain name,” but did not specify an exact date for their entry into force.