Macron: France ‘will adopt 5G’ as a ‘country of innovation’

France “will adopt” 5G and will continue to be a “country of innovation”, French President Emmanuel Macron has said, hitting back at critics of the new technology who would rather an “Amish model”, he said.

16 September 2020
A woman uses a laptop and a phone. Macron: France ‘will adopt 5G’ as a ‘country of innovation’France will continue to roll out 5G to stay a country of "light and innovation" and reduce reliance on non-EU powers, President Macron has said, hitting back at critics
By Hannah Thompson

The President made the comments in a speech to around 100 “French Tech” entrepreneurs at an event at the Elysée this week, one day after 70 MPs and ecologist campaigners called for a moratorium on 5G until at least summer 2021.

5G is a new generation of wireless technology, which aims to offer super-fast mobile internet and connectivity speeds.

As well as offering more convenience to users, it is hoped that improved speed will allow the development of technology such as tele-medicine, “remote distance” operations, speed up communications between emergency services, improve transport links and postal services, reduce unnecessary travel, simplify manufacturing, make it easier for people to work remotely, and other societal benefits.

5G critics

Critics say that 5G is being rolled out without apparent care for the possible negative environmental and health impacts it could cause, and without any democratic discussion on its introduction to France.

And some have said that its frequencies could be linked to health problems such as cancer.

In an open letter to newspaper Le Journal du dimanche (JDD), more than 70 signatories wrote: “We propose an immediate moratorium on the deployment of 5G at least until the summer of 2021…[pending a] decentralised democratic debate on 5G and digital uses…[and that] priority be given to reducing the [existing] digital divide, through the development of fibre in rural areas and by finalising the deployment of 4G.”

Read more: 4G coverage for French communes with no reception delayed

This opposition to 5G also comes after some MPs adopted a motion to propose "a moratorium on 5G", as it would generate "a big inflation in electricity consumption" and allow "the collection of personal data".

The technology has also been at the centre of several discredited conspiracy theories, including one that linked it to the spread of Covid-19.

Read more: Dozens of 5G antennas vandalised in France during lockdown

Report finds no impact on human health

However from a report into the “technical and health aspects” of 5G, France has concluded that 5G frequencies have no impact on health, if they are used within the legal limits set by French and European regulation.

The report was an analysis of the existing studies on the issue, and compiled by social, economic and environmental agencies Le Conseil de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable, l’Inspection Générale des Affaires Sociales, l’Inspection Générale de Finances, and le Conseil Général de l'Économie.

The report concluded: “Opinion is shared among health agencies that no study has conclusively shown that [5G] could cause cancer.”

A further study into the issue by several national agencies, including frequency watchdog l’Agence Nationale des Fréquences (ANFR) found that the levels recorded for 5G were 50 to 1,000 times lower than the limits currently recommended to protect human health.

Further reports by telecom, ecology and health agencies Arcep and l’Agence de la Transition Ecologique (Ademe) and l’Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire de l’Alimentation, de l’Environnement et du Travail (Anses) are expected by March 2021.

 

‘The country of Light and innovation’

President Macron rebuffed criticisms this week, and said: “Yes, France will adopt 5G. France is the country of Light, the country of innovation. We will turn away from any false ideas.”

He joked that it seemed as though some critics would rather the country follow “an Amish model” and “return to the days of oil lamps”.

Mr Macron said: “I hear many raised voices who explain to us why we should deal with the complexities of modern problems by returning to [the days of] oil lamps! I do not think that the Amish model will allow us to overcome the challenges of modern ecology.”

The “Amish model” is a reference to the American religious community that largely lives in an 18th century style, without modern technology.

'Amish' response

Environmental groups and opposition MPs responded to the barbed comments with ironic humour, with Insoumis MP Manuel Bompard tweeting: "In any case, he [Mr Macron] doesn't seem to have the lights on on every floor."

Environmental activist group Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) responded by renaming their Twitter handle as "Les Amish de la Terre" and called for a protest in front of the Elysee using oil lamps, using the hashtag #JeSuisAmish (I am Amish).

Yet in a later Tweet, Mr Macron added: “I told the people in the digital industry who were with me today, and I want to say it to everyone: Hold on, we will never let you be discouraged.”

5G - at the lower frequency of 3.5 GHz - is set to start being rolled out in France by the end of September, but in July the economy minister warned that the country is already “12 to 18 months behind its major neighbours” on the technology.

Other frequencies, including 26 GHz, will be rolled out in future, with further studies set to be completed to investigate its possible health and environmental impact.

(Map: Le Figaro)

‘No dependence on non-European power’

The President added that France’s support of 5G was also a means to ensure that the country never has to rely on power or technology from other, non-European countries.

He also reminded attendees that the government’s post-Covid “relaunch plan” would dedicate €7 billion for the digital technology sector.

He said:”On 5G and many other issues, we must not depend on any non-European power. We must reopen the battle on the Cloud.”

Read more: France announces €100billion plan to relaunch economy

Events in the time of Covid

Mr Macron appeared relaxed at the event, wearing a suit without a tie, and said that he was very happy to be welcoming individuals from French start-ups and technology companies at the Elysee, in its first public event since confinement.

He said: “We are showing that we can continue to put on events during the time of Covid….[even though] we will need to live with the virus, doubtlessly for weeks, maybe years.”

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