EU Industrial Chief Weighs in on 5G Debate

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Joanna Eva  (European Views) | The European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Thierry Breton has rejected claims that relying on European firms in the ongoing 5G network roll-out would cause substantial delays, commenting on rising tensions in Germany over the possible risks posed by Chinese firm Huawei Technologies.

In a speech in Munich, the former French finance minister warned lawmakers in Germany and beyond that the much-hyped 5G roll-out requires far more stringent oversight than previous telecommunications networks. Such oversight, continued Breton, need not come at a cost to overall development in the region.

“Setting up strict security conditions will not create delays in the roll out of 5G in Europe,” Breton asserted, “Europe, including Germany of course, is on track. We are not, and won’t be, late in Europe on the deployment of 5G.”

Breton’s comments contradict those made by German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer last week, who claimed that any exclusion of Chinese companies from the construction of a European 5G network would cause delays of at least five to ten years.

“I’m against taking a product off the market just because there’s a possibility that something might happen,” Seehofer told German media over the weekend, “I don’t think we can quickly build a 5G network in Germany without Huawei taking part.”

Indeed, German conservatives remain divided over whether or not to support a proposal by the Social Democrats (SPD) that would effectively exclude Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from the national network.

The current proposal, agreed to by both SPD and conservative lawmakers in the country, rules that suppliers based in countries where “state influence without constitutional supervision, manipulation or espionage cannot be ruled out are categorically excluded from the network, both the core and peripheral.”

SPD’s stance has caused a major strain on its alliance with Chancellor Angela Merkel since last year, with Merkel’s right-left government keen to toughen technical certification and scrutiny of equipment suppliers without explicitly excluding certain companies or countries from participation. Fears of Chinese retaliation if SPD win out are far from unfounded.

“If Germany were to take a decision that leads to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences,” the Chinese envoy to Germany, Wu Ken, declared last month, “the Chinese government will not stand idly by.”

At the same time, however, Merkel is under intensifying pressure from Washington to bar Huawei technology from major projects. According to US lawmakers and security personnel, personal, commercial and state data are all at risk when shared on a Chinese-built network.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under similar pains as the UK carries out its own nationwide 5G roll-out, with MI5 head Sir Andrew Parker forced to humbug claims that the adoption of Huawei technology will be done at the cost of valuable security ties with Washington.

As head of the EU’s vast “Single Market” portfolio in the new European Commission, Breton’s current stance appears built on claims of preserving European “technological sovereignty” in the global race to upgrade to 5G. Whether or not Beijing believes him is a different story.

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The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.