French officials insisted Wednesday that there was no reason to halt the country’s rollout of next-generation 5G mobile telecom networks, following a barrage of criticism from environmental and left-wing lawmakers citing potential health risks.
The debate flared after some 70 lawmakers signed an open letter last weekend urging a moratorium on new 5G antennas, ahead of a key auction of radio frequencies for faster networks this month.
The signatories included Yannick Jadot, a likely Greens rival to President Emmanuel Macron for the 2020 presidential vote.
Macron, eager to cast France as a start-up nation embracing cutting-edge technologies, threw oil on the fire by deriding 5G opponents as wanting to impose “the Amish model.”
“France is going to pursue the shift to 5G because it’s the shift towards innovation,” he told a gathering of tech executives at the Elysee Palace on Monday.
“I’m hearing lots of people tell us that we need to address the complexity of modern problems by returning to oil lamps!” he added.
The jibes infuriated critics, not least because Macron had promised a debate on 5G risks following his “Citizen’s Convention on Climate,” set up to quell the “yellow vest” anti-government revolt that erupted two years ago.
“The question isn’t about ‘believing in the Amish model’ but believing when someone gives their word,” said Julien Bayou, the head of France’s EELV greens party.
But environment minister Barbara Pompili said Wednesday that “all scientific reports” indicated there was “absolutely no risk” from 5G.