Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE)

5G or not to be: While the advent of 5G technology promises to change our reality drastically, the EU lags behind great powers such as China and the US. Considering the pervasive conspiracy theories and the Member States’ differing 5G deployment plans, how should the EU develop a 5G strategy that addresses public concerns while keeping up with the rest of the world in technological developments?

Gent Gjylbegu (Chairperson, FI) & Lars van der Ent (Chairperson, NL)


The fifth generation (5G) technology, developed to significantly boost the responsiveness of wireless networks, promises data transmission at speeds as high as 20 gigabits per second. The implementation of this new technology will accommodate the increasing reliance on mobile and internet-based devices, the development of Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.

Even though the European Commission initiated research on 5G in 2013 through various programmes, such as 5G-PPP, the EU is lagging behind great powers such as China and the US. As of yet, only 39% of the 5G spectrum is available for usage. A unified 5G implementation scheme for all Member States is lacking and the differences between them are visible. 

While the European Commission has published its connectivity targets, the rollout of 5G has met numerous public concerns and fierce resistance from protestors. The deployment of 5G remains difficult, since 5G requires a more extensive network of antennas and other transmitting devices. Due to limited coverage, cell antennas will have to be installed in close proximity with each other, which in turn raises anxieties about public health. In addition, during the pandemic, conspiracy theories have emerged about a potential connection between 5G technology and COVID-19.

Main Actors

The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions and upholding EU treaties. 5G is an essential part of the European Commission’s policy on Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market. In the area of electronic communications network infrastructure and the single market, the European Commission and Member States have shared competences, meaning they can both propose legislation and take action in these areas. Responsibility for rollout execution lies with Member States.

The European Commission financially supports the 5G Observatory, responsible for monitoring network infrastructure and 5G technology developments. Moreover, the European Commission collaborates with the European information and communications technology (ICT) industry through the 5G public-private partnership (5G-PPP), established in 2013 to boost technological innovation and research concerning 5G.

Furthermore, a growing anti-5G movement has expressed fierce resistance against the rollout of 5G and has swayed public authorities to research health and environmental dangers of EMF, as well as cell phone radiation. 15 Member States warned the European Commission of the resistance, calling for an EU strategy to counter misinformation. In 2020, protestors conducted arson attacks on telecom masts. On social media, the movement has taken on the form of national Stop 5G groups, spreading conspiracy theories linking COVID-19 to the rollout of 5G

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) is tasked with providing the European Union and its cooperating states with environmentally related information, used for drafting sustainable policies. Upon requests by the European Commission, the Scientific Committee on Health, Environment and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) offers opinions relating to matters of health, environmental and emerging risks. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), linked to the World Health Organisation, is concerned with research developments relating to cancer. All these institutions have argued for precaution regarding the rollout of 5G. 

A video by Kseniya Lukashenia (Media Team Member)

Past: Actions Taken

  • In 2016, the European Commission presented the 5G Action Plan, which aims to start the deployment of networks by 2018 and initiate the launch of 5G services in all Member States by 2020. Presently, this action plan still requires implementation. 
  • In 2020, the European Parliament looked into the health risks of 5G. It provided an overview of various opinions in the global and European scientific communities, noting some discrepancies among researchers and scientists regarding health hazards of EMF exposure.
  • In response to conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19, the World Health Organisation in 2020 put this misinformation at the top of its mythbusters list, hoping to tackle the spread of these conspiracy theories and non-scientifically backed public concerns. The European Commission has shared similar mythbusters on its website
  • In March 2021, the European Commission published its connectivity targets for the European Union. For instance, it aims to ensure that by 2030, all EU households have gigabit connectivity and that 5G covers all urban areas. 
  • In 2021, the European Commission collaborated with Member States on a Connectivity Toolbox, consisting of a collection of best practices, such as continued research and streamlining electronic network permit granting procedures. to accommodate the implementation of 5G. The Connectivity Toolbox also includes deadlines for Member States. By April 2021, Member States should have presented to the European Commission roadmaps for the implementation of the practises in the Toolbox and by April 2022, each Member State should report on the progress of the Toolbox implementation. 
  • In July 2021, the European Parliament presented a report on the health impacts of 5G, proving its earlier expectations. The report also includes some policy proposals, such as promoting state of the art technology for mobile phones which decrease EMF health hazards, and defining new EMF exposure limits. 

Present: Existing Issues

Deployment difficulties

5G has proven difficult to install and deploy, requiring more transmitters than current technologies in use to cover all areas. The antennae needed to cover all areas have to be installed very close to each other, possibly causing damage in human health. Moreover, the ongoing pandemic has stopped manufacturers across Europe from continuing with 5G deployment due to social distancing requirements, indicating the need to explore automation technologies.

Another issue concerning 5G deployment is the lack of radio access network infrastructure. Regions such as North America and Asia have progressed much further regarding infrastructure, because of the presence of more Open RAN players. The EU only has 13 Open RAN players, compared to 57 in the world. Without a more developed radio access network, the EU struggles more significantly to deploy 5G. 

Public concerns

5G implementation comes with new and greater potential security threats. Approximately 32% of operators are concerned about a greater attack surface. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these issues as the world population was forced to use internet-based devices for education and daily activities. Although vulnerability of 5G to cyberattacks is an issue that the EU has been aware of since 2019, no measures have been taken in response to this report.

Furthermore, environmental and health organisations have advocated  precaution regarding the rollout of 5G. Specifically regarding EMF, scientists have found harmful impacts on the environment and human health, including the development of cancer, memory loss, learning disabilities and genetic damage, as well as loss of biodiversity. Action has yet to be taken. 

In addition, anxieties regarding privacy have emerged. These anxieties have developed as the major companies providing 5G and its relay equipment originate in China. Recently, reports have surfaced showing that some of these companies may try to collect sensitive information, which generates major public concerns. Moreover, the Chinese government has access to data collected by Chinese companies. Many states renounce the idea that sensitive information falls in the hands of the Chinese government. This issue is also at the heart of geopolitical tensions between China and the United States. The EU is caught in the middle between these great powers. Being pressured by the United States to prohibit Chinese companies deploying 5G while hoping to achieve a positive partnership with China, the EU finds itself in an awkward position. While the EU has provided guidance regarding cybersecurity, Member States have taken on their own positions.

Anti-5G movement resistance

Finally, as signalled by 15 Member States, 5G rollout has met staggering resistance by the anti-5G movement. Beside ill-founded concerns about the health effects of cell phone radiation, conspiracy theories linking COVID-19 to 5G have emerged and spread on social media. These anxieties and conspiracy theories have culminated in protests and criminal attacks on telecom masts. Although both the WHO and the European Commission have attempted to counter false information, the concerns and conspiracy theories still exist. 

Future: Challenges Ahead

As the European Commission hopes to prepare the EU for the digital era, how should the EU continue the rollout of 5G? Considering, the EU lacks behind great powers such as China and the United States, the EU must race against the clock. However, the EU is hindered by a multitude of public concerns, such as health and environmental hazards, privacy concerns, security threats and conspiracy theories. 

Moreover, while Member States address Chinese 5G providers differently due to privacy concerns and security threats, the EU lacks a major provider to support 5G deployment. The EU struggles to fill the gaps and has not decided on a unified approach. Member States such as Sweden have completely banned Huawei, while Hungary remains optimistic about Chinese 5G providers. How should the EU navigate these geopolitical tensions and privacy concerns, considering the different positions of Member States?

Finally, a lack of understanding of 5G exacerbates the situation. Most citizens know about 5G, but do not fully understand its risks and benefits. This causes less positive attitudes to 5G and makes citizens vulnerable to conspiracy theories and misinformation. How should the EU address these concerns whilst accelerating the rollout of 5G?