A major figure in the drafting of the European Union’s 5G technology policy was nominated on Tuesday to lead the EU’s cybersecurity agency, as US President Donald Trump and other officials call for a tougher European approach to Chinese activities in the region.
Juhan Lepassaar, who is vying to steer the Greece-based agency as its new executive director, was until last month the head of cabinet for the EU’s commissioner for digital affairs, Andrus Ansip.
For months, Ansip’s office has been hammering out the EU’s defining policies for regulating next-generation 5G mobile technology. The results are expected to be made final later this year.
The question is whether Lepassaar would take a different approach from outgoing executive director Udo Helmbrecht, under whose 10-year helm the 60-strong cybersecurity agency has steered clear of controversial political issues such as 5G security, election-hacking and cyberwarfare.
His nomination also comes amid Huawei Technologies’ intense interest in the European market and the EU’s and national governments’ fear that partnering with the Chinese telecoms giant would pose a threat to cybersecurity.
5G, or fifth-generation mobile telecommunications technology, enables data to be transferred at a speed that is 20 times faster than existing standards.
As the largest telecommunications gear supplier in the world, Huawei holds the largest number of 5G essential patents.
The company is a vital player in China’s bid to become the leader in 5G technologies and to reap large economic benefits from having the technology and influence to set 5G standards.
“It would be interesting to see how the right-hand man of Ansip will combine his 5G policy approach with his new role tackling cybersecurity threats from China,” a diplomatic source in Brussels said.
In an April interview with the South China Morning Post, Ansip expressed his concern about a 2017 national intelligence law in China that binds Chinese companies to share information with Beijing’s intelligence apparatus.
“As far as we are aware,” Ansip said, the law “includes broad requirements for all organisations and citizens to support, cooperate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”.
“There are no provisions about limiting the application of these requirements to not apply extraterritorially.”
Before Washington stepped back from its ban on Huawei in June, Trump’s administration had been lobbying the EU hard to follow its lead.
But Ansip has rejected such calls, saying the EU would take no steps to blacklist any country or company.
In his April trip to Brussels, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sought to reassure his European counterparts that China would never require any company to “steal” information on behalf of the government.
Lepassaar still has to face the European Parliament’s industry committee before he is officially appointed. The committee is expected to meet on Monday and Tuesday.
The EU Agency for Cybersecurity, formerly known as the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security, received additional powers under the new “Cybersecurity Act”, a landmark regulation that came into force at the end of last month.
In coming years, the agency will draft certification schemes to better protect internet-connected devices, boost the security of 5G telecom networks and raise security standards for cloud providers, among other things.
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