Reports suggest the European Commission is unsatisfied by the efforts being made by some countries to secure their 5G networks against perceived high-risk vendors
According to a report from the Financial Times, the EU could be considering a bloc-wide ban on network equipment vendors that are deemed to present a security threat, such as Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
Anonymous sources suggest that the European Commission is deeply concerned that some members states have taken too little action with regards to securing their 5G networks; in particular, some states are failing to follow the security guidelines published by the Commission and unanimously agreed by the bloc back in 2020.
EU Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton reportedly revealed last week that only a third of EU countries had moved to ban Huawei from critical parts of their 5G networks, a total he deemed “too few” and thereby a risk to the bloc’s collective security.
This news comes just weeks before the Commission is expected to formally report on member states’ implementation of security recommendations, doing so for the first time since July 2020.
The furore over Huawei and 5G network security dates back to 2019, when the US began to implement bans on the company’s technology over perceived threats to national security.
The US government claimed that Huawei had direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party and their 5G network technology could allow the company to spy on US citizens.
To this day, Huawei maintains that these fears are unfounded, noting that they have consistently followed global security standards and operate independently of the Chinese government.
Nonetheless, in 2020 the US undertook a major foreign policy drive to see Huawei equipment similarly banned from its allies’ 5G networks, both in Europe and the rest of the world. Over the following year, these efforts bore fruit, with Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the UK all implementing bans on Huawei technology and mandating the removal of the company’s equipment from their networks over the coming decade.
Elsewhere in Europe, however, the response was more mixed. While most countries implemented additional security measures of some description – typically in line with the EU’s security toolbox – the severity of these measures differed greatly from country to country. France, for example, issued what was known as the ‘5G law’ in August 2019, requiring the French National Cybersecurity Agency to approve additional 5G network equipment deployments; this practice, this broadly equates to a de facto ban on Huawei equipment for much of the country.
Germany, by contrast, has been reticent to make a direct decision on Huawei, with various reviews delaying the decision-making process to this day. As a result, the Germany operators are now deeply reliant on Huawei for their 5G network equipment, with reports suggesting that 59% of the country’s RAN equipment is provided by the Chinese vendor.
In many countries, the debate over Huawei’s role in their 5G networks remains ongoing. In recent weeks, Portugal – initially one of Huawei’s staunchest defenders in the EU – has announced a new security assessment that could see the implementation a national ban on Huawei technology. Elsewhere, Malaysia is considering whether to allow Huawei to help construct its government-run 5G network, with both the EU and US lobbying against the company’s inclusion.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a more unified approach for the EU would be appealing to the European Commission. It should be noted, however, that actually implementing an EU-wide ban would be no small feat. Such a decision would require the legal approval of the European Parliament and the various member states – approvals that would be very difficult to secure before the expiration of the current European Commission’s term in office in 2024.
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