Nordstream trauma leads Berlin to draw up fresh Huawei bans

The German government is drafting a new plan to impose further restrictions on using Chinese equipment for the country’s telecoms networks, according to a strategy paper seen by POLITICO.

“It is obvious that there are considerable structural dependencies on Huawei and ZTE,” the document reads. Germany has “an urgent need for action … also to prevent a second Nordstream case — but in the area of even more critical telecommunications with far more serious consequences. After all, the 5G mobile network is the ̵6;central nervous system’ of Germany as a business location,“ it added.

Berlin officials are considering requiring telecom operators to stop using equipment by the Chinese telecom vendors for the core part (or backbone) of telecom networks by January 1, 2026, and to phase out reliance on Chinese kit in the radio access network (RAN), which is the wider network of masts and base stations, within three years.

Two industry officials and one government official told POLITICO earlier that the federal government was weighing a limit on Chinese equipment to a maximum of 25 percent in the RAN, as well as a full ban in sensitive geographical areas like the capital. 

The plans — which are still under discussion between ministries — are the latest twist in a long and politically painful process to limit Germany’s reliance on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. If approved, the plans could further stoke up trade tensions between Brussels and Beijing, already facing a row over China’s electric vehicle subsidies.

State secretaries from the interior, transport and digital affairs ministries met Tuesday in a bid to hammer out the details, officials from both ministries confirmed.

But the ministry of digital affairs — led by Liberal politician Volker Wissing — expressed fears that a ban in the form currently being discussed could lead Germany into greater reliance on Huawei’s main rivals, Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia, a ministry official familiar with the discussion told POLITICO.

German magazine Der Spiegel first reported details of the plan.

Last month, interior minister Nancy Faeser warned telecom operators in Germany that it was time to cut back on Chinese vendors, mirroring growing pressure from the EU for member countries to step up their games against 5G kit which pose “materially higher risks” than European competitors’ equipment.

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany is still heavily reliant on China for its telecom networks, according to recent industry estimates compiled by telecom consultancy Strand Consult late last year.

Germany has been a sore point for the European Union and its ally, the United States, for years now when it comes to its reliance on Chinese telecoms technology. The EU has been ramping up pressure on member countries to impose restrictions since 2020 and in June reiterated its calls to impose tougher measures. The U.S. too has been actively pushing allied governments to cut Huawei from 5G networks.

“The risks have been known for a long time. Our security authorities have repeatedly warned against one-sided dependencies,” Faeser told German newspaper Handelsblatt in August.

Operators haven’t been thrilled about the looming restrictions.

“A short-term cut would jeopardize mobile coverage and mobile expansion for years to come,” Deutsche Telekom spokesperson Stephan Broszio said previously, arguing that the company started to remove Huawei from the core network as soon as 2019 and is relying on a multivendor strategy in its technology purchases.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to include more details from a strategy paper seen by POLITICO.