What just happened? In a speech last week, European Commissioner Thierry Breton described Huawei and ZTE as 'high-risk vendors'. He reiterated his call for member states to ban these companies throughout the European Union. According to Breton, countries that have already sidelined these two vendors are entirely justified in their decisions. He urged other states to follow suit in order to eliminate their presence from the EU's 5G network entirely.

Breton expressed his disappointment that, despite EU guidelines urging its 27 member states to prohibit 'high-risk' vendors from supplying 5G equipment, only 10 have implemented this plan. He stated that the inaction of the majority of EU member states poses a significant security risk to the entire bloc and its citizens, declaring that it "exposes the Union's collective security, since it creates a major dependency for the EU and serious vulnerabilities."

Brenton's scathing assessment of the Chinese vendors followed the European Commission's update to its Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity Implementation report, originally published in 2020. This report urged member states to ban high-risk vendors from supplying equipment within their territories. While the original report did not name any high-risk vendors explicitly, the updated version points directly at the two Chinese telecom giants.

While Huawei and ZTE are not yet technically banned from all EU states, most of the 27 nations in the union are moving in that direction. At least 21 out of the 27 member states have already adopted a legislative framework for risk assessment, with three other countries currently in the process of passing laws to that effect.

Once the legislation is in place, most of these countries will have the authority to ban specific vendors from supplying 5G equipment or to remove equipment that has already been deployed. However, not all EU nations appear to be in alignment on banning Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks, as three countries have yet to take any action against these two vendors.

Due to deteriorating diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington, Huawei and ZTE have already been barred from supplying 5G equipment in the U.S. and the U.K. Additionally, India banned these two vendors from participating in its 5G spectrum auctions a few years ago, citing national security concerns.

For their part, both companies have consistently asserted their innocence, claiming that their equipment has never been used for espionage by the Chinese government. However, Western national security agencies remain skeptical, resulting in the companies being largely excluded from lucrative 5G contracts worldwide.