EU Draws Up 5G Plan Amid Security Risk Fears

EU Draws Up 5G Plan Amid Security Risk Fears

Brussels has stopped short of imposing an outright ban on Chinese technology suppliers, including the ever-controversial Huawei Technologies Co., from participating in bloc-wide 5G projects. 

The European Commission has endorsed recommendations agreed to by EU Member States in December last year, with key measures to be put in place by 30 April 2020. 

“Today we are equipping EU Member States, telecoms operators and users with the tools to build and protect a European infrastructure with the highest security standards so we all fully benefit from the potential that 5G has to offer,” said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market. 

Under the guidelines, companies based in non-democratic countries may be excluded from core network contracts following assessments by security agencies, with each of the EU’s 27 member states to take responsibility for devising their own set of security measures. Non-core networks are fair game. 

“All Member States should ensure that … they are able to restrict, prohibit, and/or impose specific requirements or conditions, following a risk-based approach, for the supply, deployment, and operation of 5G network equipment on the basis of a range of security-related grounds,” reads the guidelines issued on Wednesday. 

The announcement is indicative of efforts by European lawmakers to balance competing demands from Washington and Beijing. Citing security and infiltration risks associated with Chinese telecommunications technology, the US has threatened sanctions and cuts in intelligence sharing if Chinese technology is used; China, Europe’s second-largest trading partner, has warned of repercussions if Chinese companies are banned on the continent. 

“The United States shouldn’t be sharing valuable intelligence information with countries that allow an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party to operate freely within their borders,” Senator Tom Cotton declared earlier this month, “I urge our allies around the world to carefully consider the consequences dealing with Huawei to their national interests.”

As for Huawei, the Beijing-backed industry leader has welcomed Brussels’ stance as a “non-biased and fact-based approach” that ensures the bloc a “more secure and faster 5G network.” 

A Europe-wide 5G network roll-out has been a policy priority for years, with the European Commission devising a 5G Action Plan in 2016. According to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), some 20 networks were launched last year, and a further 80 are set to open by the end of 2020. The European telecommunications industry, says ETNO, has already spent €12.4 billion on acquiring spectrum rights. 

Still, some critics argue that the measures announced this week seem concerned only with protecting sensitive security information, rather than offering European citizens any security over their personal data. 

“It boggles the mind that the EU can even contemplate giving citizen data access to a company [like Huawei] that supplies China’s security services,” says Lindsay Gorman, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US, “The values part of this seems to have been dropped.”

Nonetheless, moves by Brussels to sideline ideological concerns over Chinese participation in efforts to blanket the EU with 5G coverage by 2025 appear par for the course. Earlier this week, the UK gave a similar green light to Huawei amid Britain’s own 5G roll-out. 

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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