Huawei shouldn’t be getting its hopes up for German 5G expansion just yet

To speak of a pro-Huawei decision would be premature because "the paper has the potential to restrict Huawei massively", Jan-Peter Kleinhans, project manager and specialist for IT security at the foundation Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, told EURACTIV.  EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT [ROBERT GHEMENT/EPA]

Although the CDU and CSU did not explicitly decide on the exclusion of Huawei, their position paper provided exclusion criteria that could still apply to the Chinese telecom giant. The ball is now in the court of the coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Although the conservative Union of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) decided on Tuesday (11 February), after months of internal dispute, not to exclude Huawei by name from the country’s 5G expansion, China’s telecom giant seems to have won the battle but not the war.

There are passages in the position paper that could give Huawei a headache as soon as these positions become law, especially when it comes to the question of who will be monitoring compliance with the security catalogue.

To speak of a pro-Huawei decision would be premature because “the paper has the potential to restrict Huawei massively”, Jan-Peter Kleinhans, project manager and specialist for IT security at the foundation Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, told EURACTIV.

In purely political terms, it was a defeat for the anti-Huawei camp within the CDU/CSU, led by Norbert Röttgen, which had demanded an explicit exclusion of the Chinese company.

However, some parts of the paper sound very much as if this camp had also been given some concessions.

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Moment of truth

The exclusion of 5G equipment suppliers should be possible if they are considered to be untrustworthy.

The criteria for this are to be laid down in a security catalogue, which will state that the “influence from a foreign state on our 5G infrastructure is excluded” and that “public interests, in particular, security policy concerns” must not be endangered.

Therefore, Röttgen expressed confidence that Huawei, although not being mentioned in the paper by name, will not be involved in the 5G roll-out in Germany. That is because “those who are vehicles of their state will not be considered for Germany’s 5G network” if the position paper turns out to be implemented consistently.

The “moment of truth”, according to Röttgen, will only emerge during the legislation’s preparation. The government wants to amend the Telecommunications Act and the IT Security Act before the end of the first quarter and to put the 5G resolutions into legal form.

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Who gets the veto?

The key question here is: who decides when such influence is threatening or when security policy issues are at stake? According to Kleinhans, the phrase “competent federal authorities” in the CDU/CSU paper probably refers to the Federal Office for Security and Information Technology (BSI) and the Federal Network Agency.

However, in terms of competence, these can only cover the technical area and not the security policy area mentioned in the following sentence.

According to Kleinhans, this would require Germany’s intelligence service, the BND, to be involved, although its director has already warned strongly against Huawei. In other words, if the BND were to have a say in monitoring the security criteria, Huawei could be in a tight spot.

For Kleinhans, the question is: “How many teeth does this thing have in the end?” The  CDU-CSU Union remains vague on this question, but the expert would find it “fatal” if the BSI ended up doing the checks all by itself.

However, it appears that the ball is now in the court of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), as its position paper does not exclude Huawei by name and the criteria are formulated more strictly compared to those of the Union.

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Many question marks for Huawei

In this context, the terms “not trustworthy” would already include providers for whom “non-state controlled influence cannot be ruled out”. The BND has already warned of such influence.

Yet, according to the SPD, who should decide on such trustworthiness?

SPD’s member of the Digital Committee, Falko Mohrs, told EURACTIV that this decision should be made by Germany’s Security Council, which consists of members of the federal government, including the foreign minister.

Incidentally, current chief diplomat Heiko Maas (SPD) pleaded for the exclusion of Huawei already in November. And for Mohrs himself, there are “many question marks” when it comes to Huawei’s case.

Under SPD’s desired model, the BND would not have the right to veto as is the case in Kleinhans’ proposal, but would rather be an information provider on the same level as the BSI.

And according to Mohrs, “nobody would be well-advised to push this highly competent contact aside”. Whether the Union intends to do exactly that – given that the BND was the loudest advocate for excluding Huawei – is something that “everyone should judge for themselves”.

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At a party retreat on 8 January, Germany’s conservative Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) passed a resolution highlighting its ideas on digital policy. Although digital activists criticised the party’s demands for increased monitoring of the digital space, they agreed with its approach to 5G expansion. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German unilateralism…

The CDU/CSU resolution is much more Huawei-friendly compared to the SPD paper but also in contrast to the European Commission position, Kleinhans said. Even if the Commission did not want to exclude any providers by name, it formulated stricter criteria.

For example, the rule of law of the supplier’s country of origin is an exclusion criterion for the EU (and the SPD), but not one that is featured in the CSU/CDU’s position paper.

The Union wanted to “avoid pointing the finger too clearly at China”, which Kleinhans suspects could be due to an “overestimation of the economic dependence on China”. In January, a Chinese diplomat in Germany said China would “not be inactive” if Germany excluded Huawei from the 5G network by law.

Other ideas from the EU toolbox were also ignored, such as strengthening security criteria for providers (e.g. Deutsche Telekom), which could be a potential gateway for intrusions into the 5G network.

Therefore, Kleinhans sees the Union position paper as a “German solo effort”, which would be a pity especially because of the German EU presidency starting on 1 July.

…or could there be harmony?

The CDU/CSU MPs see things differently.

“The result is in line with the EU’s 5G Toolbox for 5G. It is important that Europe speaks with one voice when it comes to the roll-out of 5G networks,” CSU member of the Digital Committee, Hansjörg Durz, told EURACTIV.

MEP Axel Voss (CDU) told EURACTIV the position paper was “in line with what Commissioner Breton and I recently expressed in Brussels”.

“The EU must not become protectionist, but at the same time, it must examine better who is active in the European internal market and how”, he added.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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