The European Commission hopes to choose a non-profit organisation to run the .eu top-level domain (TLD) for the European Union by early December, an official said today.

The deadline for submissions to become the .eu registry operator passed last Friday. Fewer than 10 have been received so far, said the official, who requested anonymity.

"Some more may be held up by slow national postal services," he said. But he expects the final tally to be no more than 15. Another official said this figure should be enough.

"We are confident that the number of submissions will be adequate for us to make an equitable selection of the best candidate," said Per Haugaard, spokesman for information society matters at the European Commission. "We see great potential for the .eu domain name as a means of boosting e-commerce activity in Europe," he added.

The identity of the applicants is as yet unknown. "We will open the envelopes once all the submissions are in," the official said.

The European Commission is picking a team of experts from academia and the private sector to help choose the best submission. Each of the 15 EU member states has nominated people for the job. "We have yet to choose the team of experts," said the official, adding that one of the main factors dictating the choice will be the aim to rule out conflicts of interest between the experts and the submissions.

The .eu registry will be responsible for registering domain names with the .eu TLD. It will also settle conflicts where more than one person or organisation claims rights to the same domain name.

Any fees it levies must be relative to costs, and will be decided by the registry itself. "The Commission is not going to dictate policy. That's up to the operator," Haugaard said.

Despite the recent slowdown in internet activity, the anonymous Commission official said he still sees "reasonable demand" for domain names. Even if demand for .eu TLDs doesn't live up to expectations, the registry will have to fund its operations from its own revenues. "The registry won't cost the EU taxpayer any money," he said.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, gave the European Union the go-ahead in principle to launch the new domain name last year.