The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has taken a major step toward approving a .eu domain suffix.

After a seven-and-a-half year process ICANN this week approved the application from the European Registry of Internet Domain names (EURid) to take the new TLD (Top Level Domain) into ICANN's root files.

EURid was chosen by the European Union's executive body, the European Commission, to manage the .eu TLD. The nonprofit group has long contended that the creation of the .eu TLD is an important step in promoting e-commerce in Europe as well as the European identity and for creating higher visibility of the internal market.

EURid said that the date when companies can start registering their trademarked names with the .eu suffix, the so-called sunrise period, would begin in late 2005.

As part of the ICANN process for creating the domain name suffix, the registrar agreement for the .eu TLD will become available in May, which will then allow the EURid to begin accrediting .eu registrars and publishing a list on its Web site. In June, a draft .eu TLD registration policy will be published, ICANN said.

The effort to create the European suffix was launched in September 1997, when a group of European Internet service providers, EuroISPA, proposed it.