Security first – defiant reaction of the German government

German Economics Minister, Peter Altmaier, commented on 5G technology. Copyright: BPA/Steffen Kugler

The expansion of 5G technology has sparked a sharp dispute over whether the Chinese supplier Huawei should be given a chance.

The spokesman for the German government, Steffen Seibert, has stressed that only security reasons are decisive for or against the use of Huawei. Industry interests are subordinate to this, Seibert said on Monday. In principle, this corresponds to the position of German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier. It is therefore quite clear: the German 5G-network will increasingly rely on technology from German and European manufacturers. Diplomatic pressure from China and the US seems to have the opposite effect on the German government. 

This way of action is also due to domestic political constraints. For months now, the right-wing conservative AfD in particular has been creating a mood against Chinese technology and the balancing and hesitant attitude of government politicians. The AfD-politician Steffen Kotré already asked such questions to the German Ministry of the Interior in June of this year. The Greens opposition party also wants to prevent this eternal topic from being pushed over the Christmas break. An agenda item on digital sovereignty in the German parliament is scheduled for Friday. In a guest article for the daily “Handelsblatt” the digital policy spokesman of the Greens, Konstantin von Notz, reports: “Ensuring the integrity of our digital infrastructures should have long been a central government task – in Germany and in Europe. But so far the state has not even begun to live up to its responsibility for effectively protecting the privacy of communications and digital infrastructures, which can be derived directly from basic law. The case of Huawei illustrates just how blatant these failures are. At the same time, there is currently a great opportunity to clarify things fundamentally and to secure the digital sovereignty of Germany and Europe in the long term. But the Federal Government has so far negligently squandered this opportunity through disinterest and years of inactivity.”

This is a new trend in digital policy. Away from the freedom of the market towards nationalization. This change has consequences. It is the reason why we are currently experiencing such a strong diplomatic tug-of-war over the issue of network expansion in Europe. In addition, the nationalisation of digital structures will also lead to new monitoring powers for public authorities. This should have personnel consequences, in the form creating new jobs at monitoring authorities. Extended competences must also be exercised. Certainly a second part of the question is to what extent this has to do with surveillance. If state is supervising the network, you can also control it more easily. Whoever has control over the network also has access to the information that is sent via this network. This is where Europeans should want to keep the USA and China out. That is certainly good and sensible. However, we should also make use of the possibilities that arise in criminal prosecution. It would be naive to set up a network, not having an access on the information. Espionage remains – it is only a question who is allowed to listen.