EU needs cross-border network of 5G 'corridors' to spur recovery - Vestager

BRUSSELS, Feb 8 (Reuters) - European Union countries should use a chunk of the bloc’s 750-billion-euro ($903 billion) recovery fund to set up 5G corridors to help the 27-country bloc to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, Europe’s digital chief said on Monday.

The European Commission unveiled its recovery fund plan last year to support the region’s economies that have been battered by fallout from the pandemic.

The Commission is currently vetting various schemes proposed by EU countries to see whether they qualify for funding. It wants to use a fifth of the COVID-19 recovery fund for digital projects to help the EU to catch up with the United States and China.

“One of the things that we are pushing for is cross border, from a digital point of view ... 5G corridors would be important here,” Margrethe Vestager, who is EU Competition Commissioner and also EU executive vice-president for digital issues, told Reuters in an interview.

The 5G cross-border corridors would create a network to help EU countries to deploy 5G technology for various uses across the region.

For consumers, 5G would improve the speed and capability of telephone calls and internet use. But the technology’s main benefit lies in creating new businesses, automating factories are and running critical infrastructures like power grids.

Vestager also said EU countries should take advantage of the recovery funds to set up power links, called interconnectors, to help to achieve the bloc’s green goals.

“Also on the green side of things, interconnectors between member states in order to create this energy union and ... in order for renewable energy to be able to travel better,” she said.

EU countries have until end-April to put forward plans for projects that could qualify for funds. The goal is that the bulk of the funds should be spent before 2023.

Vestager said the EU executive does not plan to extend that deadline.

“There may be for individual countries where there can be specific circumstances, an election or things like that but as such as things are now we don’t foresee an extension,” she said.

“Everyone would want to have plans ready for the recovery to start as soon possible once lockdown and restrictive measures don’t have to be at this tight phase as they are right now.”

$1 = 0.8304 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Jane Merriman