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Zurich . The href="http://www.eurid.org">EURid, the consortium appointed by the EU to manage the .eu domain, tries to keep smiling. Still, Fay Howard, project manager of the registry, could not restrain herself at last week's Digitial Pulse conference in Zurich, when a representative of the German Government said there certainly would be no Internet without Governments.

"I would just show you how long this has been going on," she said, referring to still-unfinished task of launching a European Top Level Domain, .eu, in accordance with official EC regulation.

Howard presented the complicated two-phase sunrise structure.at Digital Pulse, a regular meeting of the three German-speaking registries Switch (.ch), Nic.at (.at) and Denic (.de).

The domain is now said to be up and running Q1 next year, which means another slight delay compared to the state of play at the end of last year. One major step is to be the expected approval of the Public Policy Rules (PPR) by the Communication Committee of the EU (CoCom) on March, 10. The last changes for the rules of engagement are currently being drafted by the EC. Still there is some way to go before you can get "your European identity on the net", for the price of about €10.

The domain is exclusive: it's only for Europeans. While you can sell domains as non-EU-company, you cannot register a name.

Sue'em all

"We hold trademarks for well-known companies which have no office in a EU member state and therefore cannot register .eu-domain," said a Swiss registrar in Zurich. "So do we only have the possibilty to go on and sue everybody who tries to register the trademark, throw him out and then sue the next one?"

This is one of many tricky questions that EURid and its master the Commission must still tackle.

.eu will see the first two phase sunrise period. The first two-month registration will be reserved for trademark owners, the next two months will allow the owners of all other naming rights to register in advance of the official start. This sounds good, because not only the big players with their registered trademarks can apply, but also owners of common law marks and protected names, but this make the process really complicated. First, one must navigate tghe different trademark laws in EU member states.

After applying for the domain with EURid, the potential registrant has to bring proof for his claim on the name in front of a "validation agent". If he is the first to register and can prove his rights with documents, he wins. To check registered trademarks will be the easiest task; but what about family names -protected in one member country and not another?

"We just published a call of interest for a validation agency," Howard says. "You want a href="ttp://www.eurid.org/News/documents/ValidationAgentspeci5300104.doc">the job?"

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow

Early ideas for .eu date back to the mid-nineties; and launching has been said to be iminent since 2000. The idea was to have an European competitor against the-then monopoly NSI's .com-domains. At the time its seemed so tempting.

But a quick start was out of the question, once The Commission decided to adopt a formal regulatory framework. Member states and EU parliament and its committees got involved. This is the "normal" procedure: not fast, not slow - only too slow for Internet competition. Other newcomers to the TLD market have long outrun .eu.

.eu will be nearly perfect, sure. It will start only when every citizen of the EU can find a registrar company which speaks the official native language of his country. "We have to find for example somebody who offers registration in Maltese," says Howard.

As soon as the PPR are finalised, the EURid Consortium members - the Belgian, the Italian and the Swedish country code registries - sign a five-year contract with the Commission. Then they start to accredit registrar companies. ®

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