Fifteen EU countries raise alarm on Europe’s ‘anti-5G movement’

A contingent of EU nations has pressed the European Commission to urgently develop a strategy to counter disinformation related to 5G telecommunications networks, amid concerns that the bloc may miss legally-binding targets for the rollout of such technologies.

The EU Commission should create a communications strategy to address a spate of conspiracy theories in Europe that have led to arson attacks against telecommunications masts, member states say. [Shutterstock]

A contingent of EU nations has pressed the European Commission to urgently develop a strategy to counter disinformation related to 5G telecommunications networks, amid concerns that the bloc may miss legally-binding targets for the rollout of new infrastructure.

A Polish-led letter, sent to the EU executive on Monday (19 October) and signed by fifteen EU member states, calls for the EU executive to launch a communications strategy to address a spate of conspiracy theories in Europe that have led to arson attacks against telecommunications masts.

The letter was signed by Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Sweden.

Telecoms groups have reported 140 attacks across Europe between January and June, with a majority of criminal acts occurring in the UK and the Netherlands.

Monday’s letter urges the Commission to find a solution to the problem before any further onslaught impacts Europe’s future network coverage, at a time when citizens require high-speed connectivity as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the continent.

“We are witnessing increasing activity of the anti-5G movement across the European Union,” says the letter, sent to Commission vice-presidents Margrethe Vestager and  Věra Jourova as well as internal market commissioner Thierry Breton.

“We would like to stress that acts of vandalism against telecommunication infrastructure and escalating disinformation on electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and 5G are not only a threat to the economy of the affected member dtates but hinder also the ability for the European Union to meet its ambitious 5G goals,” notes the letter.

The EU executive should, therefore, “implement measures which counter disinformation” related to electromagnetic field and 5G exposure, the fifteen European nations say. In this vein, launching an awareness-raising campaign could help citizens support the deployment of such technologies in view of established EU targets, they add.

In the 2018 electronic communications code, the EU pledged to enhance the deployment of 5G networks by ensuring the availability of 5G radio spectrum before the end of this year.

Moreover, as part of the EU’s 2016 5G action plan, nations committed to developing their next-generation telecommunications infrastructures. These targets included the launch of 5G services in all member states in at least one major city by the end of 2020.

Member states risk 'breaching EU law' in 5G delays

EU countries which have not assigned 5G spectrum frequencies by the end of 2020 will be in breach of EU law and could face legal action from the Commission, the EU executive has warned.

However, these targets have become beset by a series of setbacks. In addition to the arson attacks, infrastructure rollout was slowed supply chains disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and geopolitical tensions between the US and China.

EU nations say that the “mistrust” that emerges from 5G-associated disinformation is particularly harmful to current deployment targets and “could have negative implications on the rollout of mobile network infrastructure (mast and antennas) as well as the 5G small-area wireless-access points infrastructure.”

While the Commission has previously said that there are likely to be delays in meeting the EU-wide targets, it is also reluctant to completely sideline current objectives.

“By the end of the year, there will be a legal obligation in all member states to assign operators to 5G pioneer frequencies,” an EU official recently informed EURACTIV. “So if a member state will not assign these frequencies, they will be in breach of EU law.”

Vestager urges EU member states not to backtrack on 5G

The European Commission’s Vice-President for Digital, Margrethe Vestager, has urged EU telecoms ministers to “limit as much as possible” any delays to their 5G spectrum assignments, amid the current challenges to the industry brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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