The Capitals Special: Europe’s 5G dilemma

EURACTIV's 5G Capitals Special.

EU ministers adopted conclusions on Tuesday concerning the importance and security of 5G technology, which stress that an approach to 5G cybersecurity should be comprehensive and risk-based, while also taking into account ‘non-technical factors’.

EURACTIV’s network of reporters across Europe have been digging a little deeper to find out more on the substance of such risks, and the concerns surrounding these ‘non-technical’ factors.

What we found proved to be unambiguous: Europe’s future in 5G is completely dependent on wider geopolitical relations, namely with the US and, unsurprisingly, China. When Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen refers to hers as a ‘geopolitical’ Commission, she is not wrong.

More generally, the Commission’s October report on the coordinated risk assessment of 5G networks noted that “threats posed by states or state-backed actors are perceived to be of highest relevance,” and member states have now been tasked with working on a set of risk alleviating measures to mitigate the cybersecurity risks outlined in the report.

EU nations will work alongside the Commission and ENISA, the European Agency for Cybersecurity, in the drawing up of the plans, which are set to be ready by the end of December this year. What direction are member states likely to follow? Read on to find out more.

-Samuel Stolton, Digital Editor, EURACTIV. 



Angela Merkel has refused to exclude the Chinese company Huawei as a potential provider of 5G infrastructure in Germany, despite warnings from her very own intelligence service (BND). BND director Bruno Kahl said during a hearing in the German parliament in October that Huawei “cannot be fully trusted.”

In a speech last Wednesday, Merkel reaffirmed her decision not to exclude “certain competitors” from the 5G-tender, because “it would do us no good to isolate ourselves”. However, she also acknowledged that such an open policy would have to go hand-in-hand with a thorough vetting of competitors to prevent any threat to national security. To this end, she proposed to establish an EU-agency for screening and monitoring European 5G-components, modelled on the existing European Medicines Agency, which ensures that European standards for drugs within the bloc are being upheld.

She has received backing from her party, the conservative CDU: At a party congress on 25 November, CDU adopted the decision not to exclude Huawei, coupled with a ramping up of security standards to ensure that Germany’s 5G-network will be safeguarded from foreign influence.

And in an interview with Handelsblatt last Monday, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) warned that a prima facie-exclusion of certain competitors would go against the principles of free-market economy and rule of law, saying: “I am not afraid of China.” (Philipp Grull,



The potential involvement of Chinese equipment makers Huawei and ZTE in the development of 5G communications networks is creating problems with the US. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to meet US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the NATO summit in London in order to de-escalate tensions.

Last July, the former government adopted emergency legislation to strengthen state powers in supply deals for 5G networks. The so-called golden powers allow Italy to exclude certain companies from public tenders for TLC on the grounds of national interest. Despite the assurances given by Italy, the US yet remains to be convinced.

According to the Americans, Chinese penetration in Italy’s 5G network will pose a security threat to the Atlantic Alliance, as it will enable Chinese to subtract sensitive data from the entire NATO communication system. But the US complains are not limited to 5G. Since Italy joined Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Trump administration no longer seems confident in the country’s loyalty. (Gerardo Fortuna –



Romania has postponed 5G auctions until next year. The country’s telecom watchdog ANCOM initially said the auctions would be held by the end of October 2019, and the government hoped to get almost 500 million euros from the sale. But on 31 October, ANCOM’s president Sorin Grindeanu said the auctions were postponed for the first half of 2020.

One of the reasons, he said, was the need to implement a recently agreed memorandum of understanding with the USA. In order to implement the memorandum’s provisions, primary legislation needs to be changed, Grindeanu said at that time, explaining the authority must present operators all the costs and restrictions, and it cannot promise this until the legislation is in place. A month later, and after a government change, the legislation changes are yet to be seen.

The memorandum signed with the US does not mention any company or a country of origin, but it says that “a rigorous evaluation of vendors” is needed and recommends “that only trusted and reliable vendors are used in order to protect our networks from unauthorized access or interference.” See the whole MOU here (Bogdan Neagu,



In Belgium, host country to EU and NATO, cybersecurity officials are rather reluctant to move forward with the rollout of 5G technology due to worries of increased Chinese influence. Only recently, Belgium’s biggest trade mission to China has fallen victim to a massive cyberattack.

Although culprits have not been named yet, IP addresses suggest Chinese state security could have been involved. Last month, Belgium’s federal and regional governments were urged by tens of thousands of petitioners worldwide to stop the 5G rollout. Brussels recently decided it does not want to rush the launch of the 5G network, as the city’s regional minister for environment, Alain Maron, announced in October.

“The 5G network cannot be established in Brussels, or Belgium, for as long as the federal government is not putting up the 5G licences for sale,” Maron said. According to a recent report, it is not only a political decision: Strict radiation standards may delay 5G rollout in the EU’s capital. (Alexandra Brzozowski –



In November, reports surfaced that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will grant Huawei access to “non-contentious” parts of the UK’s 5G network. An announcement with regards to Huawei’s access to the UK’s 5G infrastructure had been expected this autumn but could be delayed until after the UK general election on 12 December. “The security of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance and a decision on high-risk vendors will be made in due course,” a UK government spokesperson had told EURACTIV.

That being said, Huawei 5G equipment is “very likely” to be used in core aspects of the UK’s future 5G network infrastructure, Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei told EURACTIV in July.

A letter penned earlier this year to the UK’s previous Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright, from Norman Lamb, the chair of the UK’s Science and Technology Committee, warned that the “Government should mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of UK telecommunications networks.”

Despite this recommendation, Lamb also said that a “complete exclusion” of the company from the UK’s networks would not “constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat.” (Samuel Stolton – )



At the start of September, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signed a declaration with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on telecommunications security in the context of the 5G development. It means that soon Huawei’s participation in the construction of 5G network in Poland may be blocked.

Poland has been trying to build Ericsson’s production plant in the country for some time. This company has the support of the USA. It is speculated that Poland’s resignation from cooperation with Huawei is a price to pay for the US abolishing visas for Polish citizens.

American President Donald Trump signed the decree on this matter on October 4th, which launches the procedure of adding Poland to the Visa Waiver program. Poland has been included in this program since 11 November.

It seems that the declarations made in July by President Andrzej Duda – that Poland will not listen to American demands and will not introduce regulations closing the way for Huawei to participate in the construction of the Polish 5G network – will not be confirmed. President Duda said so during a meeting in Warsaw with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

A representative of the Ministry of Digital Affairs told that no one has officially excluded Huawei. At the end of October, the government and telecommunication companies signed an agreement to establish a new company called “Polskie 5G”, which is to build fifth-generation network infrastructure in Poland. (Mateusz Kucharczyk



While the executive assures that no deal has been made with the Trump administration to prevent Huawei from continuing to enter the French market, the door is not fully open to the Chinese manufacturer.

According to Agnès Pannier-Runacher, secretary of state for economy and finance, the French government “does not want to exclude or authorize operators automatically, as we have a responsibility, which is citizen security” she said on BFM TV last week.

Huawei’s fate is now in the hands of ANSSI, the national cybersecurity agency, which is supposed to elaborate a recommendation for the prime minister, who will make a decision on the case. This process has been planned by a law voted last summer in order to guarantee 5G network security

France does not want to follow Australia or US positions and insists on having its own stance. Huwaei already has a 25% market share for telecom equipment with France, along with Nokia and Ericsson. (Aline Robert,



China is pressing the Greek government not to impose any restrictions on Europe’s 5G network development. Chinese officials feel confident that Greece will not follow any coalition of countries against Huawei equipment for 5G because China is already a big investor in the country. There is also another reason: two of the three mobile companies in Greece are already using Huawei products in the network. But the US government, on the other hand, has made its position perfectly clear to the Greek authorities. Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo and the US ambassador in Greece have been unambiguous: The USA does not want any Chinese equipment in Greece’s 5G market.

Senior officials of the Ministry of Digital Governance have told EURACTIV that “5G is not a national issue, but a European one. Greece will decide its road ahead when Europe decides its course”, noting that it will be according to what all member states decide together. An official Greek delegation under PM Mitsotakis visited China a month ago, and telecommunications were on the agenda. “But 5G and Huawei were not discussed,” a senior government official told EURACTIV.

China’s president visited Greece in early November to sign 16 trade and cultural deals between the two governments. While EURACTIV understands that eastern officials pressed also for 5G talks, no deal was signed on the matter and no official meeting with the Ministry of Digital Governance took place. The Greek government will have some time to make up its mind: they schedule a 5G spectrum auction for the end of 2020.  (Theodore Karaoulanis |



Hungary will cooperate with Huawei in building its 5G network, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced at an event in China on 5 November. Szijjarto said Huawei would work with Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom in the 5G rollout. Hungary launched its 5G tender in June. The same month, Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics said that Hungary had no evidence that equipment from Huawei posed a security threat. In November, reports emerged that devices provided by the Chinese firm also play a core role in the operation of Hungarian state infrastructure, including in the country’s emergency services. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov,



Slovakia is currently preparing for the electronic auction of the frequencies in the 700 MHz band that has been allocated for 5G network building. Frequencies in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands, which are suitable for 5G and are currently in the process of allocation in other EU countries, were already allocated by Slovakia in the summer of 2017.

Amid discussion about the Chinese interest in building them, Bratislava seems to outsource the security responsibilities to the operators. The Regulatory Office for Electronic Communications and Postal Services, responsible for the 5G implementation in Slovakia, recalls that Huawei Technologies “is a technology supplier and the selection procedure for the supplier is intended for telecommunication operators“, Roman Vavro, the Offices spokesman, told EURACTIV. Telecom operators are, therefore, “responsible for the security of their networks“.

Alongside other stakeholders, including the National Security Office, the Slovak branch of Huawei Technologies Ltd. recently participated in a public debate for the preparation and implementation of tenders for the allocation of frequencies from four frequency bands, of which one – 700 MHz – shall be dedicated to 5G. (Lucia Yar,



In the Czech Republic, the message from the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NÚKIB) is quite clear: Huawei poses a security threat when it comes to 5G technology development.

The Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíček does not share this view, but from his statements, it is quite clear that the Czech Republic will probably take its cue from Germany.

“Let´s separate ideological, political and economic points of view. We must think globally and follow the situation in Europe. Technology which the 5G is based on, has a global character and I cannot imagine that our approach to Huawei or to other companies in the Czech Republic would be different from the approach in Germany or Poland,” the minister said.

The ministry stressed that the National Cyber ​​and Information Security Agency´s warning does not endanger a 700 MHz and 3,5 GHz frequency auction planned for 2020. The ministry has also already published a legislative proposal of the direct investments screening act which will focus on potentially dangerous investments into critical infrastructure in the Czech Republic. (Lukáš Hendrych,



The Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, which currently implements the initiative of Croatia’s 5G cities, said the competent authorities are closely ”monitoring and analysing the situation on the market for electronic communications networks and services in the world” taking into account broader political context with respect to the requirements of national security, and cybersecurity.

While emphasising the independence of communications operators, who can decide freely on their suppliers or manufacturers, the Ministry said Chinese companies, as manufacturers of ICT equipment, do not currently have any legal or regulatory obstacles to participate in tenders in Croatia for the procurement of ICT equipment, including equipment for the construction of 5G networks.

What is currently not clear are the names of the companies which will cooperate in the implementation but it is clear that the Summit 16+1 of China and Central and Eastern European Countries held in Dubrovnik in April, included mutual investment and ”non-discriminatory and transparent investment environment for enterprises” as one of the guidelines for the future cooperation. (Karla Junicic –



As early as in 2020, Serbia could start creating conditions for the introduction of 5G technology, with Huawei as the key partner in the construction of the telecommunication infrastructure, Minister of Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić announced in early November. The commercial application of the 5G network is expected in 2021.

Sometime before that, in mid-September, representatives of the government’s office for IT and e-government spoke with Huawei representatives about the possibility of involving the company in the development of the cloud infrastructure of the future State Data Centre in Kragujevac, central Serbia. They also discussed preparations for opening an innovation centre for digital transformation at Huawei’s regional centre for the Western Balkans, based in Belgrade.

Huawei is already active in the video surveillance sector in Serbia. In the autumn of 2018, Finance Minister Siniša Mali signed an agreement on the purchase of equipment, construction and services for a traffic surveillance project between Serbia and Huawei. In early 2019, the first new-generation cameras for video surveillance were installed in the Serbian capital. Belgrade is to get 1,000 surveillance cameras by the end of 2020. (Julija Simić,


[Edited by Samuel Stolton/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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