Europe pushes for sovereignty amidst tech reboot

Article By : Junko Yoshida

As China aggressively pushes its own industrial policy, Europe sees it as fair game to consolidate some of its collected industrial power and establish its own technology policy.

The motto of the European microelectronics industry, including its semiconductor manufacturing reboot, is fast becoming "Europe First."

The joint collaboration agreement announced by Europe’s two large research institutes—CEA-Leti (Grenoble) and Fraunhofer Group (Berlin)—has amplified an upbeat “pro-Europe” sentiment. As Leti hosted its 50th anniversary, the heads of the two research and technology organisations sealed a deal and discussed plans to work together, aligning their microelectronics innovation agenda in Europe.

Marie-Noëlle Semeria, Leti’s CEO, told reporters, “By putting European large projects under a single roof, we can go faster [with our R&D], together.”

Under the agreement, Leti and Fraunhofer set up “a technological platform,” said Semeria, so that they can provide small, medium companies and start-ups access to advanced technology. Included in that vision, she stressed, is to keep microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing in Europe.

The new agreement between the two research institutes is aimed at funding—not just for themselves but for the microelectronics industry in their regions—from each of their national governments.

The two are also working toward “certification” from the European Union to elevate their project to status of an “Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI).” The ultimate goal is funding from the EU, “hopefully in the second phase [of the project],” Semeria said.

For non-Europeans, obtaining an IPCEI badge from the EU sounds like bureaucratic wheel-spinning. It is, however, a critical step, issuing to a transnational project a free pass to state aid without breaking EU financing rules. It’s all about fostering growth and competitiveness in the EU.

“What’s at stake is our competitive advantage,” said Semeria. With new technologies and market segments such as AI and IoT rapidly emerging, Europe must be mindful of its own “economic sovereignty” and “strategy sovereignty,” she said. Europe needs to be “independent,” must keep “the knowledge of advanced technology” and hold “critical access to defence and security capabilities.”

As China aggressively pushes its own state industrial policy to build an indigenous semiconductor industry, Europe sees it as fair game to consolidate some of its collected industrial power and establish its own technology policy.

Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics Chairman Hubert Lakner put it bluntly: “We need to promote that Europe is a good idea. And if we don’t do it now, Europe will become an appendix of Asia.”

Four pillars of the European project
Semeria emphasised that Europe has technological strengths and priorities distinct from other nations’ microelectronics industries.

“For Europe, it’s no longer about CMOS,” said Semeria. Instead, the European industry’s focus is more on “derivatives” and “more than Moore” technologies. She cited “FDSOI, sensors, power electronics and compound semiconductors” as the four pillars of the Leti-Fraunhofer project.

Next: Who will win in 'Europe First' reboot? »

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