With or Without Huawei? German Coalition Delays Decision on 5G Rollout

December 17, 2019 Updated: December 17, 2019
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BERLIN—Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat partners have delayed until next year a decision on security rules for Germany’s 5G mobile network that could bar China‘s Huawei, a highly divisive issue in an unhappy alliance.

Merkel’s right-left government, under pressure from the United States to bar Huawei, wants to toughen technical certification and scrutiny of telecom equipment suppliers, without excluding any specific country or vendor.

Social Democrat (SPD) lawmakers on Dec. 17 backed an internal proposal that, if adopted by the government, could effectively translate into shutting out Huawei. Lawmakers said their goal is nevertheless to reach a common position with Merkel’s CDU/CSU group.

“I think we will have a solution in January,” said SPD lawmaker Jens Zimmermann. “We will have a common blueprint and it will be considerably more severe.”

He was referring to rules for the build-out of 5G networks finalized by Merkel’s government in October that foresaw an evaluation of technical and other criteria, and was largely interpreted as keeping the door open to Huawei.

Merkel’s conservatives are divided on the issue. Hawks opposed to the chancellor’s careful approach are eager to go ahead with the SPD’s strict standards, which stipulate that suppliers from countries without “constitutional supervision” should be excluded.

Moderates eager to avoid a showdown with Merkel suggested that the stringent security criteria should apply to the core network only.

A paper prepared by moderate conservatives also stipulates that no single company should become dominant by supplying more than 50 percent of the 5G network components. The rules would be stricter for non-EU suppliers.

One of the main bones of contention is whether the strict rules should apply just to the core 5G network or also include peripheral parts. The SPD and conservative hawks want the condition of “constitutional supervision” to apply for suppliers of parts for both the core and peripheral network.

The United States says gear provided by Huawei, the leading telecom equipment vendor with a global market share of 28 percent, contains “back doors” that would enable China to spy on other countries.

The Trump administration imposed export controls on Huawei in May, hobbling its smartphone business and raising questions over whether the Chinese company can maintain its market lead.

By Andreas Rinke and Holger Hansen