Maximum cooperation

Chinese tech giant Huawei has hit back at calls for it to be excluded from the EU’s flagship innovation and research project. Martin Banks reports.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jan 2021

It may be the world’s biggest telecoms equipment supplier but Huawei is no stranger when it comes to having to fend off attacks on its integrity. Amid US pressure, some commercial operators in Europe were urged to exclude it from supplying key telecoms equipment and next-generation networks after it was alleged Huawei equipment could be used by Beijing for spying, a claim the company strongly denies. The EU is now being urged by some MEPs and others to exclude the company from Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s showpiece research and innovation programme.

Huawei, though, has again made a robust defence of itself, saying that such a move would be counterproductive for the EU and deprive the bloc of invaluable technological know-how. It has appealed to the EU to ensure that Huawei is allowed to take part in the new Horizon Europe programme, which MEPs are expected to sign off on in plenary later this month. Horizon Europe will have a budget of around €95.5bn for 2021-2027, a 30 percent increase compared with its forerunner, Horizon 2020. European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, Mariya Gabriel, describes Horizon Europe as the world's largest research and innovation programme and the EU's main tool to strengthen Europe’s scientific and technological base. The scheme aims to support top researchers and innovators to “ensure a green, healthy and resilient Europe.”

“Huawei, as a company, has and will continue to play a positive role in rolling out the EU’s policy objectives, including Horizon Europe, and to do so in a green and environmental manner”

Huawei’s director for EU public affairs David Harmon

Huawei’s director for EU public affairs David Harmon pointed to the added value he says the firm can bring to this particular project and also, more generally, to the European research community and research organisations. As evidence he highlighted its ranking among the world’s top three innovators in the 2020 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scorecard, up two places on the previous year when the company ranked fifth. The Commission scorecard ranks the research investment levels of 2500 companies around the world that comprise 90percent of the world’s business-funded R&D. Huawei also continues to invest heavily in Europe, including €200m on a new business park in Northeastern France which will manufacture technological solutions for mobile networks. This, said Harmon, will “further enrich” Huawei’s presence in Europe, where the company already has 23 R&D centres, partnerships with over 100 universities and a supply chain that includes over 3000 companies. The French site alone will employ 300 people, rising to 500 over time, with a €1bn annual production value.

While it is headquartered in China, much of Huawei’s global research takes place in Europe. It set up its first research centre in Sweden in 2000 and, today, through a series of partnerships with over 150 European universities, is deeply embedded within the ICT research ecosystem in Europe, explained Harmon. It is for such reasons that the company says it should be included in the Horizon Europe programme for the next seven years. Excluding it from the flagship scheme would, he argued, deprive Europe of some of the best technological expertise on the market. He said, “It is clear the EU is placing innovation at the top of its political agenda but research, innovation and science are not standalone polices anymore but instruments to modernise the operation of key sectors, be it health, industry, education or energy.” He added, “Huawei, as a company, has and will continue to play a positive role in rolling out the EU’s policy objectives, including Horizon Europe, and to do so in a green and environmental manner. The company is embedded in Europe’s research and ICT eco system and is in a strong position to support EU policy objectives in the field of research, including areas connected to 5G and 6G, AI and green ICT research.”

He pointed to the company’s active involvement in Horizon 2020 in helping to boost digital infrastructure such as 5G, supporting ICT platforms as well as e-health and the internet of things. “This reason for all this is to foster excellence in scientific research and scientific activity and generate maximum cooperation.” He said, “The bottom line is that Horizon Europe is an open programme which means all organisations from anywhere in the world can take part in it. Some MEPs may have questioned our involvement in the programme but Huawei can and will play a positive role under Horizon Europe.”

Support for Huawei’s case has come from what might be seen as a highly unexpected quarter. Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm recently leapt to his Chinese rival's defence, saying it would join forces with Huawei to thwart the Swedish government's plans for a ban on Chinese network equipment. Last November, Sweden banned Huawei from its 5G telecoms networks but Ekholm argued that such a move restricts free competition and trade and will lead to a delay in rolling out the new technology, adding that it was “important that those types of decisions are reviewed”. Further comment comes from Sophie Batas, cybersecurity director for Huawei EU, who said, "Huawei has always advocated fair play, open markets, and a zero trust approach because this is beneficial to all. No-one benefits if trade barriers and walls are erected. Provided highest local security standards are met at all times, all companies, including Huawei, Ericsson or Nokia who coincidentally all happen to have substantial R&D facilities in China, should be allowed to roll out their 5G equipment in Europe."

This content was commissioned by Huawei and produced by Dods

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