Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner responsible for digital matters, used the opportunity of a keynote speech provided to the IMEC Technology Forum, held in Brussels last month, to ask whether Europe should consider the creation of an Airbus of chips.
The implication is clear even if the outcome is not.
indicating that it may be advantageous to combine the likes of
STMicroelectronics, Infineon Technologies AG, NXP Semiconductors NV and
others because manufacturing semiconductors is of a strategic interest
to Europe and too expensive at the leading edge for these companies to
pursue on their own.
"If we are really going to succeed and throw
our weight on the world stage, we need even more to work together, and
act together at a European level," the text of Kroes' speech said.
acknowledged in the text of her speech: "But the Commission can't bring
this about on its own. We can take the lead and start the talks – but
we need others to commit, too. Commit financially: and commit to doing
things differently. So I need to know, how far are member states, the
research community, and industry prepared to work towards this goal?"
question is really whether the European Commission can turn the
sovereign debt crisis that is washing over the continent right now into a
spur for strategic spending and intervention, using the argument that
difficult times require radical measures. The alternative is that a
break-up of the euro financial zone and the internal tensions it exposes
will prove so overwhelming a distraction that it will be a stimulus for
nothing but lethargy, weakness and continued decline.
This makes perfect sense and it should have been the case already if it were not for short term "nationalistic" tendencies within the European community. Let's hope that the current crisis will push for a European chip super company (among other consolidations). I say this more in hope than expectation though....
These strategic, often government-sponsored decisions are a difficult proposition. Sometimes they can succeed, e.g. when the playing field is more or less level, as is the case of Airbus vs Boeing. Sometimes, like this instance, it might be more of a risk. You're going up against super low cost manufacturing in China.
I don't think this is a slam dunk. The worst case scenario being, even with governments going further in debt than they already are, the costs might still favor the Chinese sources.
I agree with Bert22306, and besides China I would also add USA (Intel) and Korea (Samsung) as real world-wide competition that both perpetually stay in the "paranoid competition" mode for silicon. The Airbus vs. Boeing analogy is looking backwards...good historical info but not "shooting ahead of the year 20xx silicon puck". Intel and Samsung do not compete like Boeing.
some commercial success - producing half the world's airlines! Understatement indeed. The debt crisis has politicians focusing on the next vote, which means numbers. There are more dumb people than smart people, so why would the majority vote for jobs for a few smart people? Nokia is shedding 40,000 jobs since 2010. The people smart enough for a smart chip don't rely on handouts or welfare, so if Europe cannot deliver, they go elsewhere. The unemployed remain. Funding is unlikely.
Folks, national European companies are failing partly because they are relatively small and scattered. If they pool their market potential, they would be a major international force. I find the EADS analogy pertinent. On their own, defence and aerospace companies in Europe were no match for their US counterparts. When a political decision was made to pool them together, things changed quickly. If BAE Systems were to join forces with EADS (not a realistic proposition these days I know) they would be the biggest defence and aerospace company in the world.
I have always believed in one super European chip company. As it is, ST/Infineon/NXP etc. are too small on their own and often compete with each other. If Eurocrats get their act together to facilitate a conglomerate of these companies, I believe it would result in a major viable international player. Do not forget that the Europe is the largest common market in the world. Not capitalising on the ensuing economies of scale is madness in my opinion, and I firmly believe that narrow nationalistic concerns are the stumbling block here.
I am not sure this is true. Germany proved that it is possible to compete and win in the car industry through a mixture of labour reforms, strategic and stable management, diversification of risk, and constant improvements/innovation. I believe the same principles could be applied to the semiconductor industry despite ferocious competition from the far east. Europe has to use its economies of scale to ensure a large market for its indigenous industries.
The other take on this and one I am hearing from the Eurocrats is the penalty for NOT driving consolidation.
If Europe falls out of chip manufacturing (and manufacturing more generally) it will have reduced opportunities to take part in the coming nanotechnology wave. This wave is likely to be more significant than microelectronics.
We have the academic and innovative capacity to take part, but we seem to lack the will to invest in the manufacturing part, which is where much of the value is likely to be contained and paid for.
A final thought: the lesson is not lost in Europe that the one country that has maintained an emphasis on innovation AND manufacturing is leading the continent economically and is the country that all other service-oriented European countries must go to for a bail out.