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EU said to urge member states to share intel on 5G cyber threats

(Bloomberg) --The European Union is set to call on member states to exchange information to manage the cybersecurity risks of 5G wireless networks, side-stepping U.S. calls to outright ban Chinese equipment makers like Huawei.

In the recommendation to European capitals due to be unveiled on Tuesday, member states will be given several months to report to the EU potential cyber threats to the 5G network in their home markets, according to a person familiar with the matter. The information will then help craft a set of minimum EU-wide standards, the person said, which could include government requirements for telecom operators to ensure certain standards from suppliers.

The new measures are aimed at coordinating a European approach to managing cybersecurity risks, following allegations propelled by the U.S. government that Huawei and other Chinese equipment makers could enable spying by Beijing. Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The 5G network, which will power everything from self-driving cars to smart factories, "will become the backbone of our digital connectivity. It is absolutely central in security terms," European Security Commissioner Julian King said last week. "We believe that we need a more common EU approach to the security of 5G networks."

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An attendee handles a Mi Mix 3 5G smartphone on display during a Xiaomi Corp. launch event ahead of the MWC Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. At the wireless industry’s biggest conference, over 100,000 people are set to see the latest innovations in smartphones, artificial intelligence devices and autonomous drones exhibited by more than 2,400 companies. Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

The commission would propose to coordinate risk assessment and risk management measures, "including reinforced cooperation and exchange of information," King added.

The EU measures would amount to a much softer response sought by Washington, which has pressured European allies to shun Huawei from its 5G networks, including threats to Germany to cut back on intelligence-sharing if the company is involved in its network.

With no ban in the works, Europe has sought to balance concerns about growing Chinese influence with a desire to increase business with the region’s second-biggest trading partner. Germany and France have proposed tighter security rules for data networks rather than outlawing Huawei, while the U.K.’s spy chief has indicated that a ban is unlikely.

The EU’s recommendation will also serve to pressure those member states who haven’t been as active on considering the 5G cyber risks, according to a different person familiar with the matter. While the recommendation is non-binding for countries, it could be referred to in court as a legal document.

The recommendations come after European member states on Friday said they "look forward" to the commission’s recommendation. Some countries, including Belgium and Norway, have been urging the EU to provide guidance, for instance on how to vet 5G equipment and how telecom operators should roll out 5G networks.