The European Union is reportedly considering expanding its guidelines against some ‘high risk’ Chinese communication equipment suppliers.
The Financial Times this week reported that the European Union is considering a mandatory ban on member-states using companies that might pose a security risk in their 5G networks.
This includes firms such as China’s Huawei Technologies, which has already been banned by a number of countries in 5G networks.
But a mandatory ban on firms such as Huawei across the continent of Europe, would represent a dramatic escalation of Western actions against mainly Chinese firms, due to national security worries.
The move comes as a response to increasing concerns in Brussels about certain national governments delaying action on the matter, officials reportedly told the Financial Times.
It was back in January 2020 when the European Union had issued its guidance about the role that ‘high-risk’ vendors should play in European 5G networks.
The EU guidance (called the EU toolbox) stated that members can decide what part Huawei can play in its 5G telecoms networks.
Member-states were allowed to either restrict or exclude high-risk 5G vendors from core parts of their telecoms network, and crucially the 2020 EU toolbox resisted pressure from the US for an outright ban on Chinese telecom suppliers.
A European Commission spokesperson meanwhile told Reuters it is working with member states to monitor the implementation of a toolbox of security measures.
A second progress report on the toolbox implementation is in the making and will be published in the coming weeks, after the first one from July 2020, the spokesperson told Reuters.
Huawei also did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
According to the FT, the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton recently informed telecoms ministers that only a third of EU countries had actually implemented Huawei bans in critical areas.
But some countries have pressed ahead with 5G bans on Huawei. In June 2022 for example, an appeals court in Sweden upheld a ruling by a lower court that banned Huawei equipment in the country.
The FT report stated that as the EU guidance in 2020 fell short of a ban, the trading bloc could introduce a mandatory ban on companies deemed to present a security risk, should member-states (such as Germany) continue to delay – amid pushback from local mobile operators.
Until recently, Germany had stopped at an outright ban on kit from Huawei and ZTE, after years of prevarication – despite intense pressure from the United States.
But in March it was reported that the German government was planning on forbidding local telecoms operators from using certain components from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE in their 5G networks.
The slow European response stands in marked contrast to Anglo Saxon countries for example.
In May 2022, Canada became the last ‘Five Eyes’ country to order local mobile operators to remove equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE by 2024.
Canada was very late to the party on this, compared to the other ‘Five Eyes members (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada).
The United States had conducted a long campaign to pressure its allies to ban Huawei equipment, which included a warning about future intelligence sharing.
In 2019 then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo publicly warned that the US “may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.
Australia had already banned the use of Huawei telecom equipment as far back as 2012, and in 2018 that country included Huawei’s 5G equipment in that ban.
New Zealand also rejected Huawei 5G kit in that same year.
The UK took much longer to reach a complete ban, partly because Huawei was already well entrenched in Britain, having supplied gear to UK mobile phone companies for the best part of two decades.
However Prime Minister Boris Johnson in mid July 2020 ordered all Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027.