5G expansion: German foreign ministry gets a say, but no veto

The Chinese 5G supplier Huawei will probably have a harder time in Germany in the future. [EPA-EFE | Filip Singer]

Germany’s upcoming IT security law is intended to protect the country’s 5G network, among other things. When it comes to Huawei, the Foreign Office fought for a right of veto. The result: now it can have a say but cannot unilaterally block a supplier. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The political scrutiny of 5G suppliers is set, following an agreement among the ministries after two years of debate.

Previously only a technical examination of the components was planned, but the anti-China hardliners in Germany’s government finally prevailed, according to the draft made available to EURACTIV Germany.

No company is explicitly excluded by name, but 5G suppliers for critical components (in particularly sensitive places, such as network services) must provide a guarantee declaration that they “are in a position to comply with the legally required regulations, as well as further flanking obligations themselves.”

However, the government no longer wants to rely solely on these declarations and wants to test the components before approval, both on a technical and political level.

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A selection …

SPD wants a say

As soon as a 5G supplier registers its components for use in Germany, the government must decide within one month whether use might have to be prohibited. Until the decision is reached, the manufacturer is not allowed to supply anything.

The cabinet held particularly long negotiations to decide which ministries are allowed to have a say. The interior and economy ministries as well as the chancellor’s office, all in the hands of the CDU/CSU, were assigned, but the social democrat-led foreign ministry also wanted to have a say.

The SPD stands for a tougher China course than its conservative coalition partner. Ahead of the 2021 Bundestag elections, the SPD is trying to position itself in three important areas at once: digital, security, and foreign policy.

Now Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ ministry is actually involved in the decision as long as “foreign and security policy concerns are affected by the possible decision”. That would probably be the case with Chinese critical components.

An agreement among these ministries is a “compelling prerequisite for a decision” on exclusion.

First, civil servants are to discuss in working groups. If no agreement is reached, the issue is referred to the level of the ministers. If they cannot reach a result either, the issue will be sent to the government’s dispute settlement procedure, and there, the chancellor has the authority to set guidelines and can take action.

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Political pressure instead of veto

In Bundestag circles, this compromise is seen as the Foreign Office having had to renounce its veto. Behind the complicated wording, there is a simple truth: an exclusion will be allowed only if all ministries agree. If the foreign ministry is alone in opposing it, this will only temporarily delay the process, because the chancellor decides in the last step.

However, this could create some political pressure because it is questionable whether the chancellor will allow a manufacturer to operate, against the advice of her foreign minister. If any damage were to result, the culprits would be easy to find.

The draft is to go through the cabinet in December, followed by the parliamentary process. There it could be further sharpened, especially regarding the foreign ministry’s role.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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