The EU is stepping up the pressure on nation states to eliminate Huawei and ZTE equipment from their 5G networks, with internal market commissioner Thierry Breton calling for faster action.

Back in 2020, the EU released its 5G cybersecurity toolbox, recommending that there should be restrictions or bans on the use of equipment in the core and access (RAN) parts of the networks. Suppliers deemed to be high-risk should be avoided⁠—a reference to companies such as Huawei and ZTE, whose relationship with the Chinese government is believed to leave the door open for risks to national intelligence and data security.

Almost all Member States have now transposed the toolkit’s recommendations into their national law.

“But to date, only ten of them have used these prerogatives to restrict or exclude high-risk vendors,” said Breton in a speech made yesterday.

“This is too slow, and it poses a major security risk and exposes the Union’s collective security, since it creates a major dependency for the EU and serious vulnerabilities.”

Breton said that the European Commission itself will move to avoid the use of equipment from the two suppliers. And, he added, “We will also take into account the toolbox and the assessment in the report when allocating EU funding throughout our programs.”

However, as Breton says, several nations are dragging their heels – in particular Germany. All three of the country’s main mobile operators⁠—Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Vodafone⁠—are still sourcing RAN products from Huawei.

According to Denmark’s Strand Consult, nearly 60 per cent of Germany’s installed 5G equipment came from the country, with the cost of replacing it all estimated as billions of euros.

The same firm found that, in 2022, Chinese products accounted for 100 per cent of Cyprus’s 5G network, with a figure of 76 per cent for Romania and 72 per cent for the Netherlands. As a result, these nations and others are hoping to make a comparatively slow transition away from the Chinese suppliers – something that’s not good enough for Breton.

“We have been able to reduce or eliminate our dependencies in other sectors such as energy in record time, when many thought it was impossible,” he says.

“The situation with 5G should be no different: we cannot afford to maintain critical dependencies that could become a weapon against our interests. That would be too critical a vulnerability and too serious a risk to our common security. I therefore call on all EU Member States and telecom operators to take the necessary measures without further delay.”

Huawei, ZTE and the Chinese government have all repeatedly rejected claims that their products represent a security risk.

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