The potential of new technologies like 5G should be weighed against possible security risks, a recent conference in the European Parliament was told. Martin Banks reports.
The debate, late last week, was hosted by a cross-party group of MEPs and attended by a senior representative of Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, and also Vodafone.
Opening the lively, two-hour meeting, Romanian Socialist MEP Maria Grapini told the audience, “It’s in the interests of all of us to strive for a smooth and quick digital transformation because our world is becoming ever more digitalised.”
She added, “It has been said that 5G will transform society by bringing massive new opportunities which is welcome.”
For Europe to be competitive in international markets the EU will have to take 5G into account, she argued.
“But we also have to seriously consider any security risks. We must also come up with strategies to reduce any risks involved, including identifying the products and providers who are deemed to be unreliable.”
“It is also up to member states to choose if they want to introduce a new technology or not, but if we do not take into account what stakeholders say, we cannot make progress and that is the advantage of a debate such as this. I love progress but without such stakeholder involvement we cannot hope to make progress.”
The Romanian also stressed to the packed audience that the “sensitive debate” was “not an investigation into Huawei” but an exchange of views about 5G, other new technologies and related security issues. “This,” she repeatedly emphasised, “is our topic tonight, not Huawei.”
In his opening remarks, Huawei’s chief representative to the EU institutions Abraham Liu said, “During my time in Europe I’ve been most impressed by the European values of openness, and advocacy of multilateralism - an alliance of many countries pursuing a common goal - which is a cornerstone in this challenging geopolitical environment.”
"It’s in the interests of all of us to strive for a smooth and quick digital transformation because our world is becoming ever more digitalised" Maria Grapini MEP
He went on, “Europe’s values have led to it being a powerhouse in mobile communications and Huawei shares these values which will help Europe continue to be a leader in the 5G era.”
Slovenian EPP MEP Franc Bogovic addressing the potential of 5G in connecting remote areas, said, “Currently, there is a big gap between rural and urban areas and there are a lot of opportunities to empower people with broadband skills.”
Luc Hindryckx, director general of the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), meanwhile sought to explain what was meant by ‘digital sovereignty”, saying this involves “taking care of your data and respecting laws on intellectual property.
He also agreed that it was “in the interests of all to strive for a smooth and quick digital transformation”, adding, “a diversity of providers is the key and this is why competition in telecommunications is so important.”
Turo Mattila, representing the Finnish EU presidency, said that cyber security “is a very important priority for us” and that funds dedicated to cyber security in the next Multiannual Financial Framework must be used as “efficiently” as possible.
“You have to remember that cyber is not something you can address in a silo all on its own.” Czech ECR MEP Jan Zahradil argued that “solutions” were needed for the “complex and uneasy” world of international trade while UK Liberal deputy Bill Newton Dunn noted that NATO has said that China, along with Russia, Iran and North Korea pose the biggest cyber security threats.
"Currently, there is a big gap between rural and urban areas and there are a lot of opportunities to empower people with broadband skills" Franc Bogovic MEP
Further contribution came from Joakim Reiter, external affairs director at Vodaphone, who said, “We’re on the cusp of transforming society but, in Europe, we have to move faster on this.”
In a lively Q & A session following the formal presentations, Liu was asked for “reassurances” that information on European citizens would not be stored by the Chinese authorities.
Josianne Cutajar, a Maltese Socialist MEP, also asked about the cybersecurity aspects of 5G and how Huawei can mitigate against any risks while Robert Roos, a Dutch ECR member, questioned why the audience was “not able to discuss concerns about the integrity of Huawei.”
Replying, Liu admitted that these were “often asked questions”, stressing that “Huawei is 100 percent owned by its employees and is a private company.”
“The relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government is no different to any other international company such as Eriksson or Nokia.”
Liu added, “We pay our taxes, obey and fully comply with local and international laws and we do not put our customers in any danger.”
“We would never do anything to put their data in danger. We have no motivation whatsoever to do that. It would be suicide if we did.”
Liu also said that cybersecurity was “a very important topic” for the company, stating that it has the “best track record” in cybersecurity in the 170-plus countries where it operates. “We have been doing a lot on this,” he declared, saying, “That is a fact.”
Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl explains how Europe can boost the number of its digital unicorn companies.
Making innovation happen is more than just a motto for the EIT, writes Dirk Jan van den Berg.
Europe and Huawei share common values, writes Abraham Liu.