Merkel pushes back on calls for Huawei ban in Germany

The move would ban Chinese firm from providing equipment for Germany’s 5G networks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday pushed back against calls to impose a blanket ban on Chinese telecoms equipment vendor Huawei, which would prevent it from providing gear for Germany’s 5G networks.

“There are two things I don’t believe in. First, to discuss these very sensitive security questions publicly, and second, to exclude a company simply because it’s from a certain country,” Merkel told an audience in Berlin.

“The government has said our approach is not to simply exclude one company or one actor, but rather we have requirements of the competitors for this 5G technology,” she said.

Germany is weighing strong requirements and limits for Chinese telecoms equipment vendor Huawei in the country, and its regulators recently released stricter draft requirements for operators and vendors on cybersecurity. But the government has dismissed calls for blanket bans on Huawei and ZTE.

Calling China a “systemic” competitor, Merkel said “the answer can’t be that we fight those who are economically strong. We must stand up for fair, reciprocal rules and not give up on multilateralism,” adding that a European approach to the issue would be “desirable.”

European leaders have an EU-China summit scheduled early April to debate trade relations, and the issue of whether Europe would impose restrictions on Chinese telecoms equipment vendors Huawei and ZTE is high on the agenda.


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UK home secretary warns tech companies over Christchurch content

Sajid Javid says online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work.’

Tech companies that “don’t clean up their platforms” must be “prepared to face the force of the law,” U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said today.

The warning was delivered in reaction to Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand, which left 49 people dead and 20 seriously injured after a shooter targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Javid’s statement comes as the U.K. government prepares to publish a delayed “online harms” white paper this month, setting out how it plans to impose a duty of care on tech companies.

Writing in the Express, Javid said online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work for them.” The Christchurch gunman filmed his attack and live-streamed it to Facebook. “Tech companies must do more to stop his messages being broadcast on their platforms,” Javid wrote.

“Allowing terrorists to glorify in the bloodshed or spread more extremist views can only lead to more radicalisation and murders,” he continued.

“This is the type of illegal behaviour that our new Online Harms White Paper will address.”


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Alexander Stubb’s virtual job pitch

Former Finnish prime minister auditions to be EU’s next digital czar.

Technically, Alexander Stubb isn’t running for anything at the moment, but he’s still got a stump speech.

It’s all about how the lightning-speed pace of technological advancement will change life as human beings know it — indeed even change the human life form. It’s also about how EU politicians and policymakers need to race to catch up.

A former Finnish prime minister, Ironman triathlete and recent aspirant for European Commission president, Stubb is a leading prospect for a senior EU post when virtually all of the bloc’s top jobs become vacant later this year.

How convenient, then, that he sees a need for a European commissioner for artificial intelligence — possibly at first vice president level — functioning as a “digital czar” in an EU civil service fully reoriented to make technology and its implications a top priority.

For now, Stubb is back at his day job as vice president of the European Investment Bank. But his short-lived bid to become the center-right European People’s Party’s candidate for Commission president may turn out to have been an audition for something more digitally focused. His campaign speeches often sounded like TED talks focused more on technology than traditional European political issues.

“It’ll change and is changing science and the future of mankind” — Alexander Stubb

In an interview with POLITICO this week, Stubb reverted immediately to his main talking points from the campaign trail and his view that digitization is driving virtually everything.

“For me, the big picture is that artificial intelligence and robotization is going to change three things fundamentally,” he began, sipping water at a small table at the EIB offices on Schuman Circle in Brussels. “No. 1 is the economy and the way in which we work. It’s doing it already: platforms, the face of modern work changing daily, whether it’s blue-collar or white-collar.

“Secondly, it’ll change politics and media as we know it,” he continued. “It’s already done it. Social media. Fake news. You know, election-meddling being the example on the media side. And on the politics side, we thought that we were going towards digital democracies, but in many places around the world we have ended up with digital dictatorships.”

“Thirdly,” he concluded, “it’ll change and is changing science and the future of mankind.”

Blue-collar workers are feeling the pinch from the rise of AI | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Policymakers looking to promote innovation, he continued, are facing another three-pronged fork in the policy highway: “We have the Chinese way, the American way and the European way.”

“The Chinese way is a single-party system, authoritarian and controlled, and the philosophy is different,” he said. “It’s Confucian. It says it’s quite OK to share you privacy and information and have social rankings, and so on.”

“Then there’s the American way, which right now you could argue is the ‘Art of the Deal.’ It’s very polarized, but it tries to get things done. And then there’s the European way, which is the art of the compromise.”

“If you really simplify things, the Chinese model is full control, the American model is no control and the European model is somewhere between the two,” he said. “What I am trying to say is it’s much better having the good guys doing the algorithms than the bad guys.

“Someone needs to regulate those algorithms so they don’t go haywire,” he said. “And I think Europe is quite good at that.”

So what are the EU’s most urgent imperatives?

Stubb is likely to be in line for a top job at the European Commission | Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

On economy and work, Stubb said the bloc must work to protect citizens from disruption and upheaval.

“How do we make sure that the European middle class, if you will, stays on board and is still willing to defend a social market economy, globalization and liberal democracy?” he said. “Probably the reason that we are seeing so many populist movements at the moment is that we haven’t been very good at dealing with socio-economic issues on a European level … I am an advocate of the Nordic welfare model and I wish we could somehow juxtapose or bring that model to Europe as well.”

Going forward, Stubb said he would urge the EU to focus its efforts in the areas where it has most leverage: trade policy, competition policy and encouraging public and private investment.

It should also continue to make use of its considerable regulatory powers to both encourage technological innovation and stop powerful forces — whether big corporations or autocratic governments — from taking exploitative advantage of the rapid changes in the economy.

“If I were to have a chance to influence the agenda of the next European Commission, I would even have a commissioner for artificial intelligence” — Alexander Stubb

“The EU is a regulatory superpower, and regulation does count in all the three fields that I mentioned: economy and work, politics and media, and science and the future of mankind,” he said.

While he lost the Commission president nomination to Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Stubb was widely applauded within the party for conducting a positive campaign that avoided any damaging in-fighting, virtually assuring that he will be offered a prominent portfolio.

Exactly what job, or even in which EU institution, remains to be seen. Developments in Finnish politics, especially the results of a national election on April 14, will also be a factor.

“If I were to have a chance to influence the agenda of the next European Commission, I would even have a commissioner for artificial intelligence,” he said. “For some it might sound a little bit sort of science fiction, but you know you have some rather sophisticated countries that are already doing that.”


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UK looks the other way on AI

Brexit is distracting lawmakers from examining the controversial use of facial recognition technology.

LONDON — When Wales takes on Ireland in the Six Nations rugby championship Saturday, Big Brother will be watching.

Fans filing into the stadium in Cardiff will be scanned with facial recognition software as part of a police trial of the technology. Should any of their faces match a database of potential suspects, officers will be standing by, ready to swoop.

It’s the kind of indiscriminate mass surveillance that would be expected, in ordinary times, to be the subject of fierce debate in the U.K., as journalists and politicians fought over the proper balance between privacy and security.

Instead, trial runs like the one in South Wales are taking place largely unchallenged by parliament. That, say civil liberty campaigners, is largely because of Brexit.

Three years ago, the debate over the Investigatory Powers Act, nicknamed the “snoopers’ charter” — which gave security services powers to collect and store personal data for 12 months and track their use of the web, phones and social media — dominated the front pages of the national papers and was the subject of fierce debate in the U.K. parliament.

The technology’s first deployment, during the UEFA Champions League Final in Wales, prompted 2,470 alerts

By comparison, there has been just one debate in the last two years devoted specifically to facial recognition in the U.K. parliament. And that was held in the non-elected House of Lords.

“Facial recognition” has been referenced just 59 times in the official parliamentary record Hansard since 2014 (11 times during the Lords debate and 21 during the passing of the Data Protection Bill last year). Meanwhile, the EU Withdrawal Act alone was debated by politicians for more than 272 hours between July 2017 when the legislation was laid before the U.K. parliament and last June when it received Royal Assent.

There has been “a complete failure of politicians to engage with the issue,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a civil rights group that is taking London’s Metropolitan Police to court over the use of facial recognition technology.

“The [Home Office hasn’t] sought to consult parliament,” she said. “They didn’t seek to consult human rights experts, wider civil society, NGOs, but rather steamed ahead and [have] plundered millions of pounds into what is clearly really a controversial new form of surveillance.”

Trial runs

Facial recognition techniques are developing rapidly, and police across the world have been eager to add them to their arsenals.

People walk beside information signs which make passersby aware of a facial recognition technology test at Berlin | Steffi Loos/Getty Images

This coming weekend in Cardiff will be the 29th time the technology has been deployed by the South Wales police as part of a trial that began in 2017.

In addition, the Metropolitan Police in London has deployed the technology 10 times, including at the Notting Hill Carnival. It is currently evaluating the results of its trial, and is due to issue a report in April.

Experts say the technology will become increasingly sophisticated, saving hours of police time, as artificial intelligence hones its identification skills.

Japan’s NEC Corporation, which provides the technology to South Wales and the Metropolitan Police, declined an interview, and would not discuss its technology, or confirm if its algorithms were trained using artificial intelligence.

Facial recognition is in use in China, and the German government is testing a system at Berlin’s Südkreuz railway station. Allied Market Research expects the global market will be worth $9.6 billion by 2022.

So far, however, the results are mixed. At the England versus Wales rugby match in Cardiff on February 23, more than 18,000 scans resulted in 12 potential matches against a watchlist of 700 suspects, according to figures published by South Wales Police.

Eight turned out to be false matches. Four were “positive” and led to three arrests or “disposals.”

“The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle” — Brad Smith, Microsoft

The technology’s first deployment, during the UEFA Champions League Final in Wales, prompted 2,470 alerts of which all but 173 turned out to be false positives.

The trial has also elicited a challenge in court, by Ed Bridges, a Cardiff citizen, who alleges it violates the privacy rights of everyone within range of the cameras, has a chilling effect on peaceful protest and breaches data protection laws.

South Wales Police declined a request for an interview while it faces a judicial review.

‘The genie is emerging from the bottle’

It is not just civil liberties group who are asking parliament to provide clarity on how facial recognition technology can be used.

“If the public is to have its concerns assuaged, if trust is to be developed, there has to be a very clear regulatory framework and at this stage, I don’t think there is,” said Tony Porter, the U.K.’s surveillance camera commissioner, who oversees compliance with the U.K.’s surveillance camera code of practice and advises ministers, the public and system operators about effective and appropriate use of surveillance camera systems. He has no powers of inspection, audit or sanction.

A bank of television monitors displays images captured by a fraction of London’s CCTV camera network within the Metropolitan Police’s Special Operations Room | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Porter added that he has yet to be convinced there is a “very real and serious approach to how government wants to use this type of technology, if indeed it does.”

The U.K. data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, has also raised concerns about the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies in public spaces, and opened an investigation in December.

“Police forces must have clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of [facial recognition technology] in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that no less intrusive technology or methods are available,” a spokesperson for the regulator said.

Even the technology’s natural proponents — law enforcement and technology companies — are calling on lawmakers to provide clear rules on how it can be used.

Brad Smith, the president of software developer Microsoft, said in a blog post in December that it was important for government to start adopting facial recognition laws in 2019.

“There are significant potential civil liberties issues at stake and we have to be sure that it is being used responsibly” — Norman Lamb

“The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle,” Smith wrote. “Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues.”

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in November, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the police were finding themselves “hamstrung by a quite complex regulatory system, a quite complex legal framework.”

Elaborating on her comments, a spokesperson for the force told POLITICO that while police had used existing legislation for its trial, there was no specific legal framework for the use of facial recognition technology.

The Met Police is “keen to ensure that the appropriate legal and ethical frameworks are put in place to support its use,” the spokesman said.

The Home Office declined POLITICO’s interview requests, but said in a statement that it had set up a Biometrics Oversight and Advisory Board and has sought advice from the independent Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group to ensure police use is appropriate and to maintain public trust.

Cressida Dick said that the police were “hamstrung” when it came to the regulatory system regarding facial recognition| Hannah McKay/Getty Images

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott emailed POLITICO to say her position was that facial recognition should be subject to regulation, which should guard against any risks of discrimination against communities where there had already been injustices.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, called for the use of facial recognition to be halted until proper safeguards could be put in place, in a comment emailed to POLITICO.

Brexit distraction

Civil liberty groups hope the cases against the Met Police and the South Wales Police will spur parliament to act.

The legal challenges could act as a “trip wire” for lawmakers, according to Porter, the surveillance camera watchdog.

But with Brexit yet to be resolved, and a vast legislative agenda associated with Britain’s departure from the EU, parliament may continue to struggle to find time to debate the issue.

“I do recognize that we are a country that is very heavily focused on a political crisis,” said Porter, although he said he would not comment specifically on the level or extent to which the crisis was preventing further work in the area. But he said he did not see a “clear intent’ by the government to deliver a legislative framework.

Facial recognition is the “tip of the iceberg” — David Davis

Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat MP and chair of the parliament’s science and technology committee, said that facial recognition was one of the issues that has not been properly scrutinized because of Brexit. His committee has touched on the regulation of facial recognition as part of a wider probe into the government’s biometrics strategy, and is due to hold another evidence session on March 19.

“There are significant potential civil liberties issues at stake and we have to be sure that it is being used responsibly, particularly in the criminal justice system,” Lamb said. “I don’t think the Home Office has nearly enough of a sense of urgency here.”

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned and fought a by-election in protest at the erosion of civil liberties in 2008, told POLITICO he raised concerns about facial recognition technology before joining the government in 2016, but said it was “fair cop” to suggest big dominant issues were being ignored as a result of Brexit.

Davis, now a backbencher after walking out of Theresa May’s government over her Brexit plans, warned that the “next big area of argument” in the civil liberties sphere following the misuse of personal data on Facebook will be around gathering data in public.

Facial recognition is the “tip of the iceberg,” he warned, pledging to take on the issue himself.

“It is going to be important, and I will be, as I do with these things generally, tending to gradually raise the profile of the thing until people have got the point,” he said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Tech policy coverage: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools allow you to seamlessly search, track and understand the developments and stakeholders shaping EU Tech policy and driving decisions impacting your industry. Email pro@politico.eu with the code ‘TECH’ for a complimentary trial.


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Facebook removes hundreds of accounts in UK, Romania

The move marks the first time Facebook has taken down accounts linked to domestic groups in either country.

LONDON — Facebook said Thursday it had removed hundreds of false accounts that promoted divisive content in the United Kingdom and Romania, the first time it has taken such action against domestic groups in either country.

The move comes as the American tech giant is fighting to regain its reputation after a series of privacy scandals, notably linked to Cambridge Analytica, a British data analytics firm, that used Facebook users’ information to target them during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny any wrongdoing.

As part of the cull, the social network deleted almost 140 U.K. Facebook groups and accounts, as well as British users on Instagram, a photo-sharing service also owned by the company. These groups carried out coordinated behavior to portray themselves on both sides of hot-button issues like immigration, differences between Islam and Christianity, and the ongoing conflict between Pakistan and India.

“The actors were playing both sides and engaged in a series of divisive issues,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told POLITICO. “They changed names of the groups to build an audience and then alter the topic to engage that audience in a different debate.”

The majority of the inauthentic activity in the U.K. related to the British Muslim community and Pakistan, according to Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, who independently reviewed the deleted Facebook content.

In particular, the individuals — no one has yet been identified as being behind the groups and accounts, though Facebook said it had referred some material to the British police — had created groups to attract supporters of Tommy Robinson, a British far-right leader, and then altered the Facebook groups to engage them in discussions about Islam.

“There were heated discussions between both sides,” Nimmo told POLITICO. “It was an attempt to draw far-right supporters into a debate with Muslims.”

Facebook’s Gleicher said these groups had disseminated a limited amount of hate speech, which had subsequently been taken down. But they had been deleted from the social network because these accounts had promoted themselves in a way that misled others and corrupted the public debate.

In total, 175,000 other users followed the now-removed Facebook and Instagram accounts, which had garnered roughly $1,500 in advertising over a nine-year period, according to the company’s analysis.

In Romania, a further 30 Facebook pages and accounts were removed after local groups created Facebook content that portrayed itself as independent news, but instead promoted partisan political information linked to the Social Democratic Party.

This is not the first time that Facebook has removed online accounts and pages from its network. In January, the company said it had deleted 365 pages and accounts with ties to Russian government agencies that had promoted anti-NATO and other divisive content.


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Chinese investment slows as EU turns the screws

China’s investment strategy in Europe slowed down, partly because of increased European scrutiny.

Beijing’s strategy of buying up crucial sectors in Europe has passed its peak as governments turn to stricter scrutiny of Chinese investments, a report said Wednesday.

Over the past year, China invested about €17.3 billion in Europe, researchers at Rhodium Group and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) calculated. That’s a 40 percent drop compared with 2017, and a 50 percent fall compared to the record €37 billion in 2016.

There are two reasons for the slowdown, the researchers said. At home, the Chinese government has reined in its past investment programs; and in the West, Chinese investors are seeing new regulatory and political hurdles pop up — not least in the EU, where there is a raging debate on China’s involvement in telecoms.

“You see a progressive increase in pushback in the West. It is much more developed in the U.S., but it is strengthening in Europe,” said Agatha Kratz, associate director at Rhodium Group, a research firm specialized in China.

The EU is revamping its China strategy. EU countries this week approved a regulation on screening foreign investments which will fully apply by October 2020, and will allow national capitals to block bids in strategic sectors.

But — amid a global debate about Huawei and its involvement in the next generation of internet networks — the Commission is going beyond investments. It is also reviewing procurement rules, data protection policies, security policies and competition rules to make sure Europe updates its laws against rising competition from China.

“The debate doesn’t stop with the fact that we have an investment screening in place, it is actually just starting,” said Mikko Huotari, deputy director at Merics.

The College of Commissioners meets Wednesday to prepare for an upcoming EU-China summit on April 9.

Biotech, cars come into play

Researchers calculated that Chinese investors have started targeting a wider array of sectors.

Financial services, health and biotech, consumer products and services, and the car industry saw rising investment — unlike “traditional” targets such as transport, infrastructure and real estate that accounted for the bulk of Chinese buying over the last eight years.

“It’s hard to tell whether an investment is politically motivated or economically motivated,” said Kratz, but “we see an overlap between sectors in the ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy, and patterns observed in Chinese investment.”

The researchers said that 82 percent of Chinese investments in 2018 could have fallen under the scope of the EU’s new investment screening mechanism, which is being implemented across the Continent.

Waking up to the threat

The sharp downfall in Chinese investment flows to Europe is mostly due to China’s debt crisis, according to researchers and analysts. China, struggling with highly indebted companies and banks, last year passed a law to rein in lavish spending on M&A and started questioning the value of certain acquisitions fearing its state-owned companies were overpaying.

But it’s also true that the EU is warier of takeovers of prized hi-tech companies by Chinese state-owned enterprises and has moved to make such transactions more difficult.

On Tuesday, EU countries approved a new investment screening regulation, which will oblige member governments to collect and exchange information. This comes after a crackdown on strategic takeovers in Germany, France and Britain. All three countries toughened their national legislation on foreign investments in the last two years.

That’s led to some concrete decisions to block acquisitions. Germany last year for the first time used its investment screening law to block the takeover of hi-tech company Leifeld Metal Spinning. The government also thwarted a Chinese plan to acquire part of electricity provider 50Hertz.

China and the U.S.

The U.K., Germany and France continued to attract the bulk of China’s European investments, the study showed, but the big three are less dominant. Their share declined to 45 percent in 2018 from 71 percent in 2017, while Sweden and Luxembourg made it into the top five list.

While EU countries are paying more attention to China, it’s still a much smaller presence on the Continent than the U.S.

“Chinese investment have been welcomed in the first years, but viewed with very much skepticism since,” said Hinrich Voss, a researcher at Leeds University who studies global foreign direct investment. “But Chinese investments are still significantly smaller than U.S. and other countries’ investments, as well as intra-European investments.”

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Emmanuel Macron’s renaissance vs. reality

POLITICO’s team breaks down the French president’s plans — and rates their chances of success.

No one could accuse Emmanuel Macron of being short of ideas. But how many of them will become reality?

The French president laid out his vision for the EU in an op-ed published in multiple European newspapers Monday evening, calling for a “European renaissance” and proposing a raft of new policies and institutions to implement them. He also called for a conference to rethink the EU political project, saying even changes to the bloc’s governing treaties should not be taboo.

But talk is cheap. As countless national leaders before Macron have found, getting the EU to change course is the hard part.

Here’s a run-down of Macron’s key proposals, together with analysis by POLITICO’s specialist reporters — and our take on how much chance of success they have.

TRADE

What Macron wants: A lot is left to interpretation from Macron’s op-ed but trade is arguably the area where his proposals represent the most radical shift from status quo. They are broadly in line with a recent Franco-German push to rethink the EU approach to competition and trade policy. Macron calls for a “European preference” in public procurement and says the EU should “reshape our trade policy, penalizing or banning businesses that compromise our strategic interests and fundamental values.” He also calls for “penalizing businesses” that compromise “environmental standards” in trade.

Macron delivers a speech during the closing session of the Intelligence College in Europe | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

What the EU thinks: We’ve heard that before. The “European preference” line sounds a lot like the “Buy European Act” that Macron called for in his election program. But even French officials have admitted that type of protectionist measure is a non-starter in Brussels.

A more realistic approach — that France has already championed — would be “reciprocity” in public procurement. That’s the notion that EU governments should not buy goods and services from countries that are not open to European companies. The idea is gaining traction, including in Germany’s latest industrial strategy. There’s an old Commission proposal to that effect, which could be renegotiated between EU countries after the EU elections.

As for taking into account the EU’s “fundamental values” in trade, Macron has a little credibility problem: When it was suggested to him that France’s strategic arms industry should not be exporting to Saudi Arabia, Macron called an export ban “pure demagoguery.”

Reality check: POLITICO’s trade team puts the chances of implementing a policy of soft reciprocity (where non-EU companies are penalized unless their countries open up to EU bids) at 4 out of 5. But that “fundamental values” thing looks a lot like hot air.

COMPETITION

What Macron wants: “We need to reform our competition policy,” Macron wrote.  Although the specific measures he hinted at are more in the trade domain, his call carries echoes a Franco-German proposal from last month. That came in the wake of the European Commission’s block of the rail merger between France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens that stirred up ill feelings in Paris and Berlin. Both countries insisted on the need to reform current EU rules to allow European companies to become “global champions.” That requires a rethink of how the Commission assesses mergers, mainly to take greater account of competition at the global level. Another important pillar of the strategy would allow for more state aid.

What the EU thinks: Currently, the EU does not allow its member countries to grant companies specific advantages. But several exemptions allow bypassing that rule, including a recent framework for joint research and innovation projects “of European interest.” France and Germany said this was a “useful” but “very complex” tool and have called for the conditions to be revised.

Responding more broadly to the Franco-German calls, EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has defended her existing toolbox, including the projects of European interest and state aid rules to tackle tax avoidance. But in a climate of increasing protectionism across the world, the proposals of France and Germany have some wind in their sails.

Chances of success: 3 out of 5. The reform of competition rules will be discussed in the run-up to, and after, the European Parliament election in May. The Franco-German alliance take is likely to have a strong impact on the final outcome.

TECH

What Macron wants: Quite a lot. The French president called for “European supervision” of major digital platforms including “prompt penalties for unfair competition, transparent algorithms,” as well as more funding for innovation (see budget section below). He also wants a “European Agency for the Protection of Democracies” to help countries protect themselves “against cyber-attacks and manipulation,” as well as European rules “banishing incitement to hatred and violence from the internet.”

What the EU thinks: We’ve already got much of that in place. Arguably, there’s already “European supervision of major digital platforms” thanks to Vestager and her competition department at the Commission and the EU Observatory on the Online Platform Economy, although for now there is no specific focus on algorithm transparency (guidelines on that front will be up to the next Commission). On cybersecurity and election defense, the EU has an action plan to push platforms to be more secure.

The Commission also works with national election officials to deal with cybersecurity threats, and is conducting stress tests on electoral systems. On hate speech and defending democracies, there are EU voluntary codes of conduct but the bloc has been reluctant to move toward regulation.

Chances of success: 4 out of 5 on the supervision of platforms. The Commission is already quite assertive when it comes to antitrust targeting Big Tech, and is expected to put forward new guidelines for dealing with algorithm bias and artificial intelligence. On hate speech, 1 out of 5. Given how much opposition there is to a law regulating terrorist content online, it’s hard to imagine a consensus for a law on hate speech.

BUDGET

What Macron wants: The French president called for financing “innovation by giving the new European Innovation Council a budget on a par with the United States in order to spearhead new technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.” Macron thinks big on EU agencies: As well as a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies, he wants a “European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition,” a “European food safety force” and a “European Council for Internal Security.” But his big plans include no mention of how they would be financed.

What the EU thinks: The European Commission has proposed an increased in research spending for the bloc’s next long-term budget, which is set to run from 2021 until 2027. Its budget proposal also includes spending on climate and the environment, as well as proposed programs for funding border management.

Macron talks with European leaders during a summit in Brussels | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

Chances of success: 1 out of 5. A boost to EU spending in order to finance any of Macron’s big ideas will depend in large part on the willingness the EU’s so-called net contributors — wealthy countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands — to put more money into the EU’s coffers. At the moment, a group of frugal countries that includes the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden are resisting calls for an increase in national contributions to the EU budget post Brexit. Without new EU funding, many of Macron’s ideas face an uncertain future: The EU’s budget requires unanimous agreement of all member governments.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

What Macron wants: Macron says he wants pesticide use halved by 2025. He has also suggested establishing a “European food safety force” whose job it would be to improve controls on food, counter the threat of powerful lobby organizations and bolster the independence of scientific assessment studies regulating hazardous substances.

What the EU thinks: Halving pesticide use by 2025 is already French government policy — but French farmers are hopping mad because they say there are few alternative solutions. There are currently no European laws being proposed that would seek such an aim. Brussels is, however, in the final stages of reforming the so-called General Food Law, whereby the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should gain additional powers to conduct its own safety tests on products such as pesticides. EFSA last year was also provided with more than €60 million per year to do the same job that Macron’s food safety force would likely do.

Macron milks a cow in Laroquevieille, near Aurillac in 2016 | Thierry Zoccolan/AFP via Getty Images

Chances of success: 1 out of 5 for pesticides, 4 out of 5 for the food safety watchdog (because it pretty much already exists). Reducing pesticide use by 50 percent inside six years is a long shot — even for France, never mind all of Europe. France already asks Europe for hundreds of so-called derogations that allow farmers to continue using banned substances. And uptake among farmers to transition away from using glyphosate, the world’s most used herbicide, has been slow.

ENVIRONMENT

What Macron wants: The French president wants the EU to aim for zero carbon emissions by 2050. He also proposes a European climate bank to finance the transition. Macron’s other ideas for “spearheading the environmental cause” include “penalizing businesses” that compromise environmental standards.

What the EU thinks: Macron’s push for carbon neutrality is in line with the European Commission’s long-term climate vision; although the EU executive advocates for of a climate-neutral EU by 2050 — which covers all greenhouse gases, and not just carbon dioxide. But he’s one of few heads of state in the ambition camp. Recent discussions among ministers showed a clash between countries arguing for swift and deep cuts in carbon emissions and those worrying about economic competitiveness and jobs.

Macron holds a sign with the slogan “Make our planet great again” ahead of the One Planet Summit in 2017 | Philippe Wojazer/AFP via Getty Images

As for a EU climate bank, it’s unclear what Macron has in mind and how this would be financed or be different from the EU’s lending arm, the European Investment Bank, which is already the largest provider of climate finance worldwide. The idea of penalizing environmentally unfriendly trade partners sounds impracticable. Today France — along with Spain and Luxembourg — proposed to make future trade agreements conditional on respect of the Paris climate agreement. But there is no widespread support for increasing trade barriers based on environmental standards.

Chances of success: 2 out of 5. The difficulty in reaching a common vision on the bloc’s long-term climate ambition is obvious from recent Council discussions. Penalizing companies that violate environmental standards looks like a heavy lift.

MIGRATION AND SECURITY

What Macron wants: A “common border force and a European asylum office” and a European Council for Internal Security. Also on the wish list: “a treaty on defence and security should define our fundamental obligations in association with Nato and our European allies,” Macron wrote, including “increased defence spending.” And he wants a “European Security Council with the United Kingdom on board to prepare our collective decisions.”

What the EU thinks: Much of this is music to the Commission’s ears but some member countries are not so keen. The Commission has been pushing for a common border force, a stronger EU asylum office, and harmonization of EU asylum rules. But some governments are vehemently opposed to the idea of giving up power on fundamental issues such as who can enter their countries. Getting the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to hand over border control to Brussels looks like a very long shot.

On a defense and security treaty, the key question is whether use of the EU budget would be extended to cover military operations. The EU’s current treaties expressly forbid that.

Macron speaks to Ahmed Adam from Sudan during his visit to a migrant centre in Croisilles, northern France | Michel Spingler/AFP via Getty Images

As for Macron’s proposal for the U.K. to have a seat on a European Security Council, it expands on plans outlined in the Political Declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU published alongside the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement last November. This document talks of “flexible consultation” between the U.K. and EU on foreign policy and defense.

Chances of success: 2 out of 5. Migration is a hot topic but one where finding European consensus has proved a headache. On defense, there is a political will to do more but many are also anxious to avoid any clash with their role in NATO.

As for defense cooperation with the U.K., Britain has shown a willingness to remain engaged — but would likely prefer to operate through NATO than a European Security Council.

EURO

What Macron wantsThe French president, a former banker and finance minister, has made eurozone reform one of his priorities. But he keeps his comments on the common currency to a minimum in his op-ed. “How would we resist the crises of financial capitalism without the euro, which is a force for the entire EU?” he declares.

Macron appears to have decided this is not the place to push for more, particularly as tetchy talks continue on a future eurozone budget. This article is about pushing the bloc beyond pocketbook issues. “Europe is not just an economic market,” Macron says.

Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

What the EU thinks: EU officials and governments will be grateful Macron hasn’t added to eurozone reform fatigue. They have enough on their plates with ongoing talks over issues such as that budget, completing a banking union and the like.

Chances of success: With reaction focusing on his headline topics of security, migration, digital industry and other policies, Macron has at least succeeded in avoiding a new entanglement over the euro.


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How Huawei won Barcelona

Trump’s tweets and the Chinese vendor’s dominance mean US officials fought an uphill battle at this week’s global telecoms fair.

BARCELONA — In a global standoff that pits U.S. security services against Chinese telecom giant Huawei, it was the latter who came out as the winner at a high-stakes gathering in Barcelona this week.

At the annual Mobile World Congress fair, Huawei was up against combative U.S. officials who toured government delegations calling the Chinese vendor “deceitful” and arguing that it poses a security threat to the West.

But Huawei was playing on familiar turf in Barcelona, where some 100,000 telecoms executives had gathered for industry shop talk and ogling at new tech innovations. Huawei’s brand was plastered all around the conference venue, for which it was a key sponsor, and it chose to launch its new, flagship product at the fair: the foldable Mate X smartphone.

Huawei’s chief didn’t hold back on the politics, either.

“The U.S. security accusation on our 5G has no evidence, nothing,” the company’s Rotating Chairman Guo Ping said in his keynote speech Tuesday. He slammed Washington by saying that those concerned about government spying “can go ask Edward Snowden” — a blunt reference to the 2013 scandal that revealed mass surveillance of global data flows by the U.S. National Security Agency.

Days before the final offensive in Barcelona, the U.S. strategy got sidetracked by rumblings in the country’s bilateral negotiations of a trade deal with China.

The U.S. apparatus had targeted the Barcelona telecommunications conference as the peak of a monthslong campaign to convince European and global allies to cut out Huawei.

It followed a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Eastern Europe earlier in February, in which Huawei featured at the top of the talking points, and a keynote speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference mid-February warning for “the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecoms companies.”

But days before the final offensive in Barcelona, the U.S. strategy got sidetracked by rumblings in the country’s bilateral negotiations of a trade deal with China. President Donald Trump suggested that criminal charges against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and one of its top executives could be used as a bargaining chip in his administration’s ongoing trade negotiations with China. “We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks,” Trump said.

The statement came after tweets by the U.S. president, where he hinted at supporting open competition in the telecoms vendor market — which caused confusion across the telecoms market at a time when operators are looking for clarity on major 5G contracts.

Huawei’s brand was plastered all around the conference venue | Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

By the end of the four-day gathering, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rob Strayer had called Huawei “duplicitous and deceitful” but failed to pressure the Europeans into committing to new measures against Huawei.

Huawei in Europe

Huawei’s full-court press in Barcelona came at a critical time, as the company has been shut out of major Western markets in past months, and its strategy to scale up relies heavily on the revenue it is generating on the European Continent.

A diplomatic campaign from Washington in Western and allied capitals in past months have triggered new restrictions in Australia and Japan, and others could follow suit in coming months — giving its competitors on 5G infrastructure including Ericsson, Finnish Nokia and Korean Samsung a leg up in the global race for networks.

Europe’s joint market accounts for 10 to 15 percent of Huawei’s revenue, company figures show, versus more than half for the domestic market in China, 11 percent for the Asia-Pacific region and just 7 percent for the Americas.

Vincent Pang, the company’s president for Western Europe, stressed the importance of the Continent at a briefing with reporters in Barcelona. “It doesn’t matter what happens in any single country in Europe. We will stay here,” Pang told reporters, adding that Huawei considers Europe “the most powerful innovation house in the world.”

Europe’s importance explains partly why Huawei has invested so heavily in the region. The equipment maker has struck many deals with the Continent’s largest telecoms operators in the past decade. It also set up “security centers” where operators can run security checks on its equipment, in an effort to preempt criticism.

Huawei’s entanglement with Europe’s telecoms networks and its operators have also scared off powerful industry groups, who fear restricting or even banning Huawei will cost billions of dollars to the Continent’s largest operators like Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and others.

EU leaders in past weeks disputed the need for a blanket ban on Huawei products, which the U.S. wants. Instead, they are pushing ahead with a series of midway network security measures that will ultimately preserve China’s presence in broad swathes of European telecoms markets — in a classic “third way” approach to the issue.

As pressure on the Chinese vendor rises, its competitors have tried to get ahead of the game.

“I don’t think that, in the summer, we’ll live in a Europe where the majority of [EU] member states banned Chinese manufacturers” — Jan-Peter Kleinhans

“[We] have already deployed operational 5G networks based on commercial equipment in Europe, Australia and Asia,” Ericsson’s director, Johannes Arvidson Persson, said in emailed responses to questions.

At the end of the Barcelona fair, the Swedish company secured 14 5G contracts with operators, of which it keeps a running list online. It includes European contracts with Vodafone U.K., Telenor in Norway, Wind 3 in Italy and Swisscom in Switzerland.

Huawei on the other hand claims to have more than 30 5G contracts worldwide, and 13 in Europe — but didn’t disclose the list of operators it struck deals with. In Europe, it said Vodafone, EE (owned by BT), Telecom Italia and Sunrise in Switzerland have signed with the company. Huawei said some of its partners have asked not to be named because of fear of political backlash.

One of Ericsson’s main advantages worldwide is that it is the first to go live with commercial 5G networks in the United States — a country that has restricted Huawei’s access in past years, and formally shut the market for Chinese vendors last year.

According to Jan-Peter Kleinhans, an analyst and 5G security expert at the Berlin-based Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, “I don’t think that, in the summer, we’ll live in a Europe where the majority of [EU] member states banned Chinese manufacturers.”

“The big question is how many member states realize that 5G is not a unique issue,” he said. “People are waking up and realizing: ‘Holy sh*t, Chinese ICT is everywhere, we do not trust the country, we do not trust its government, what do we do?'”

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


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Poll: Majority of Brits want tech companies to remove harmful content

Respondents to a POLITICO-Hanbury poll strongly prioritized this over protecting free speech online.

A majority of people in the U.K. back regulation to force tech companies to remove harmful content online while a minority considers protecting free speech to be a priority, according to a POLITICO-Hanbury poll.

Asked what government should prioritize when regulating companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, 56 percent answered “forcing companies to remove harmful content” while 24 percent said “preserving free speech online.” A fifth of respondents said answered “don’t know.”

The exclusive snapshot of U.K. public opinion, which was conducted between 22 and 25 February, comes as Jeremy Wright, the digital and culture secretary, is putting the finishing touches to proposals for new online harms legislation. That is now expected to be published in mid-to-late March, according to an official close to discussions.

Ministers had been hoping to publish a white paper of proposals before the end of February, but they have not yet been signed off across the U.K. government.

Wright and his deputy, the Digital Minister Margot James, travelled to California last week, where they met Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to share the government’s current thinking on new regulations.  While Wright has made clear in recent weeks that the “era of self regulation [for technology companies] is coming to an end” he has not yet set out concrete proposals for how he will force companies to remove harmful content from their platforms. Wright has said he is considering creating an online regulator.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright | Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

The poll, which sampled the opinion of 2006 people, found a higher proportion of men than women prioritized free speech, with 28 percent stating it would be their preference when regulating tech companies, compared to 20 percent of women. The proportion of men and women who said they prioritized forcing companies to remove harmful content was similar — at 57 percent and 55 percent respectively.

Londoners were also most committed to preserving free speech, with 38 percent stating it should be the priority. Other regions of the U.K. had equivalent figures ranging from 18 percent in the Midlands to 24 percent in the North of England.

Conservative supporters were the strongest backers of forcing companies to remove harmful content, with 70 percent stating it should be a priority over preserving free speech (21 percent.)

The cross-party digital, culture, media and sport select committee, led by Tory MP Damian Collins, published a damning report last week calling for a raft of regulatory action against technology companies, including for their legal liability for content identified as harmful to be tightened.

Facebook said in its response to the committee report that it would be open to “meaningful regulation.”

The digital secretary and other ministers have publicly called for regulation on the issue of harmful content, following the death of teenager Molly Russell, whose father accused Facebook-owned Instagram of facilitating her death, by failing to remove images of self-harm.

Tommy Robinson banned from Facebook and Instagram

Far-right activist has ‘repeatedly broken’ policies and standards.

Facebook and Instagram have banned British far-right activist Tommy Robinson for breaking hate speech policies and “violating our community standards,” Facebook announced Tuesday.

Robinson had “repeatedly broken” standards by “posting material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims,” Facebook said in the statement. “He has also behaved in ways that violate our policies around organized hate.”

“As a result, in accordance with our policies, we have removed Tommy Robinson’s official Facebook Page and Instagram profile. This is not a decision we take lightly, but individuals and organizations that attack others on the basis of who they are have no place on Facebook or Instagram.”

Robinson’s official Facebook page had more than 1 million followers.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said the ban is “clear evidence of the tech giants working alongside the establishment in order to silence criticism,” CNN reported. “The more you try to censor me the more people will want to hear from us.”

Robinson is already banned from Twitter, the Guardian said.


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