As globalization spreads, so does regionalization. Ten more countries joined the European Union this month, as that region spreads its political and economic influence farther east from the Atlantic. But what that means for electronics is hard to say.
Since the end of World War II, Europe has struggled to redefine itself. Most of the western European economies have liberal labor laws and generous health and retirement systems that have hampered the region's ability to compete on a global scale. Philips, Infineon and STMicroelectronics have emerged as its only major players in semiconductors, and they struggle to maintain market share. Startups are virtually a nonstarter.
The 10 new EU members surely will bring new meaning to the competitive landscape in Europe, which has seen manufacturing drift away over the years. With trading barriers eased, countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary are seeing heightened manufacturing interest from western European neighbors. German automakers have extracted amazing concessions from powerful unions that are watching auto plants pop up in the Czech Republic, for example.
So as boundaries blur, will a European identity arise, bringing a cohesiveness to the continent as it competes against Asia and North America? Perhaps.
Arnost Lustig is considered one of the greatest living Czech writers. He survived the Nazi death camps and then, in 1968, the emotional turmoil of being exiled from his country (today he lives in Washington). Lustig spoke at a recent Mentor Graphics gathering in Prague, two days after his native country joined the EU.
During the speech, he recalled walking across the yard one frigid winter day at Auschwitz, where the grim joke was that if you were freezing, they'd send you up the chimney to warm you. A group of men noticed the young Lustig's condition and surrounded the boy, pressing their bodies against him for a few minutes to to keep him from freezing.
"Maybe the united Europe was born because of this deepest human instinct: how to survive-but not only to survive alone, but with people around me," he said.
A group of nations that battled totalitarianism for the better part of the 20th century is surely up to the task of competing on the global stage.