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July 23, 2020

The geopolitical storm over Huawei hits Europe

Only one week after the UK banned Huawei, the French are to phase out the licences for Huawei too, Reuters reports. It is not an outright ban, but de facto it is, only delayed by a few years. The National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi) told telecom operators that they won't be able to renew the 3-5 year licenses they just issued on Huawei gear. It also actively discourages other operators to even start thinking about getting into Huawei. 

A 2019 law obliges French telecoms to seek permission from Anssi for their 5G hardware. Operators must each apply for dozens of licences for equipment covering different parts of the country. The decision had not yet been made public. The president of Anssi told Les Échos earlier that Huawei is already subject to some refusals in certain areas, while Nokia and Ericsson have  green light with broad permissions for the maximum length of eight years. 

Two of the telecom operators, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, currently use Huawei on 50% of their 4G networks. The short and temporary permission for Huawei for 3-5 years de facto discourages the two operators from extending their investment into the company's hardware, as the investment lifetime is more around 15 years. 

China is already thinking about retaliation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese ministry of commerce is currently considering banning Ericsson and Nokia from exporting 5G antennas they manufacture in China if other EU countries follow the UK ban. France is de facto joining the UK in banning Huawei, while other EU countries still hesitate. Germany is not expected to vote on the subject until September. Angela Merkel's latest comments, however, suggest that Germany may take a different route. Yesterday Merkel said that Hong Kong was no reason to break off economic relations with China. 

China is the hub of global electronics and assembles almost all 5G equipment. Nokia and Eriksson manufacture in China, and over 14% of their employees work in North EastAsia. Both providers are heavily invested in the region. But they also already started to shift part of their production outside China, partly because of Trump's US sanctions. China cannot completely chase the two European competitors away, as their antennas are used by some of Chinese telecom operators. 

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July 23, 2020

Hagia Sophia - Erdogan's political gamble

The Hagia Sophia would normally be outside our reservation. But the religious symbol is right at the heart of a geopolitical storm which goes beyond Turkey's muscle-flexing in the Mediterranean. With the Hagia Sophia Turkey is playing a card of political Islam, against the outcry of Christians around the world.

The Hagia Sophia was completed in 537 as the largest orthodox church and icon of the Byzantine world. It was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century and then into a secular museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, in 1934 . Now it is to become a mosque again. 

Early in July the Supreme Administrative Court revoked its status as a museum by ruling on a case brought forward by an Islamic NGO. Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed this with an order to open the site for Islamic prayer. From tomorrow onwards the Hagia Sophia will once again become a mosque.

For Erdogan this religious symbol is a political coup. It outrages the western world and rallies his supporters inside Turkey for political Islam. According to recent polls, a large majority of Turks support the move. Already four out of five churches linked to the Hagia Sophia in Turkey have been turned into mosques.

The move is designed to strain relations further with Russia and Greece, though it is not clear how the politics will play out. Orthodox church leaders in both countries condemned the move. Russian religious leaders warned it would send things back to the middle ages. Vladimir Putin and Kyriakos Mitsotakis had a conversation over Hagia Sophia yesterday, after which Putin officially urged Turkey to preserve it as a symbol of peace. How this will impact the Russian dealings with Turkey in Syria and Libya is another matter.

This comes as the Greek navy is still on high alert after Turkey announced a seismic survey south and east of the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Angela Merkel organised a phone call Tuesday night to de-escalate the situation. Whether she succeeded is still not clear. The Greek government rejects reports in the German press saying that Merkel prevented the outbreak of a Turkish-Greek war in the 11th hour. The official message from Athens is that the high alert situation is unchanged, and navy and air defence are still monitoring Turkish ship moves. The next days will be crucial, and will reveal how far Turkey wants to go with its provocations. 

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