European Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said on Thursday that she expected "several hundreds of thousands" of companies to apply to use the new .eu domain name.
Reding spoke at a press conference in Brussels to announce the start of the "sunrise" period on Dec. 7, during which trademark holders and public bodies can apply to register .eu names.
The Commissioner said the .eu domain name would become "as important for European businesses as .com addresses." It would give European businesses the tools to protect themselves under European Union law and help make them more visible, while giving a unique European dimension to their image, she said.
However, Commission officials said companies whose brand image is strongly linked to a .com address, such as Amazon.com, would find it difficult to switch to the new top-level domain.
Non-E.U. companies will be able to apply for .eu addresses if they have a registered office in the E.U.
The domain name will be available only in its English version, as opposed to the French spelling ".ue". Asked if this was an admission of the dominance of English in cyberspace, Reding said the E.U. was using the Latin name "europa." "It is nothing to do with France or England," she said.
The Commissioner also stressed that EURid, the European body that will a oversee the allocation of .eu addresses, would not in any way threaten the role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in allocating domain names.
The E.U.'s institutions will start using a .eu name for their Web sites from next week, and email addresses for E.U. civil servants will end in .eu from next year.
Following the registration period for trademark holders and public bodies, holders of "prior rights," such as company or business names, will be able to apply for .eu addresses starting Feb. 7. Finally, any citizens or organization based in the E.U. will be able to apply from April 7, 2006.
To deter cybersquatting, the applications submitted before April 7 will be examined to ensure that those applying actually own the rights to the name, brand or trademark for which they are applying.
Registration will be handled by more than 700 registrars across the E.U.'s 25 member countries.
During the sunrise period, EURid will charge trademark holders Euro 45 (US$53.19) and public bodies Euro 35 for applications. Other rights' holders will be charged Euro 85. After April 7, applications to EURid will cost Euro 10. Applicants will also have to pay registrar fees.
Processing applications is expected to take a couple of weeks during the sunrise period, partly because applicants have to provide supporting documentation to prove they own the rights to the names they want to register. After that period, applications are expected to take only a couple of days.
There will be an independent dispute settlement body based in Prague.