The EU is considering a mandatory ban on member states using companies deemed to pose a security risk in their 5G networks, including Chinese telecom group Huawei, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions.
The move comes amid concerns in Brussels that some national governments are questioning the issue, the officials told the Financial Times.
Only a third of EU countries had banned Huawei from critical parts of the bloc’s 5G communications, despite recommendations from Brussels to exclude high-risk suppliers from technology investments, EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton told the bloc telecom ministers at a final meeting Friday. “This is too few. And it exposes the collective security of the union,” he said.
The recommendations, which were unanimously adopted by member states in 2020, ranged from certification requirements to supplier diversification.
The guidelines didn’t match a ban, but people with direct knowledge of the matter said the EU could introduce a mandatory block on companies deemed to pose a security risk, such as Huawei, if member states, including Germany, continued to delay.
The European Commission declined to comment. The block’s executive arm will report next week on the block’s progress in implementing the recommendations.
New rules enforcing a ban are unlikely to emerge before the five-year term of the current European Commission expires in 2024, given the time it takes to gain the support of the European Parliament and member states for a new law.
Huawei said it opposed politicization of cybersecurity evaluation. “Assessing cybersecurity risks without adhering to technology standards, or excluding specific vendors from the system without proper technology evaluation, is a violation of the principles of fairness and non-discrimination, as well as against the laws and regulations of the European Union and its Member States.”
The company said: “No court has ever found Huawei guilty of malicious theft of intellectual property, or required Huawei to pay damages for infringement of the intellectual property of others.”
Washington, in particular, has accused Huawei of being a criminal enterprise that stole from US companies, violated sanctions against North Korea, and made false statements to the FBI. It has urged US allies to deny the company access to their critical communications infrastructure.
Officials in Germany have expressed concern about ties between Deutsche Telekom and Huawei. Earlier this year, Berlin said it was reviewing the use of Chinese components in its 5G infrastructure and whether a change in the law was needed.
The officials with knowledge of the Brussels talks warned of the “cost of long-term dependence” on China, just as the bloc had relied on Russian energy supplies before the war in Ukraine, if the entire EU failed to ban Huawei. “We know what it’s like to depend on others,” said one.
The latest warnings come at a time of growing concern in the EU over its technological dependence on China, the country’s trade practices and Beijing’s human rights record.
At last week’s meeting with telecoms ministers, Breton warned of the risks of overexposure to Chinese suppliers. “My main message to member states was to remind them that urgent action is needed to prevent major vulnerabilities from emerging that are difficult to undo,” he said.
The EU had already been able to “reduce or eliminate” its exposure to geopolitical risk in other sectors, such as energy, he said, warning: “We must do the same for 5G networks – we cannot afford to maintain critical dependencies that are a weapon against our interests.”
The push comes as a number of European countries reassess their dependence on China for critical telecommunications infrastructure. Portugal is preparing to ban Huawei from some 5G equipment in a policy reversal. The country is one of Europe’s largest per capita recipients of Chinese investment.
Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the EU, plus the UK, have already banned the company from their 5G infrastructure.
Additional reporting by Anna Gross in London