Further evidence of the European Commission's interest in re-invigorating microelectronics on the European continent – and microelectronics manufacturing in particular – has come from Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner responsible for the digital agenda.
Kroes, one of the senior bureaucrats within the Commission, used the opportunity of a keynote speech presented to the IMEC Technology Forum, held in Brussels last month, to ask whether Europe should consider the creation of an Airbus of chips.
Readers may remember that Malcolm Penn of Future Horizons Ltd. was one of the co-authors of a report recently presented to the European Commission that discussed various requirements for, and ways towards, hosting manufacturing on 450-mm diameter wafers. However, while interest is high in Brussels – the home of the European Commission – because of its potential job- and wealth-creation benefits, the idea seems to be less urgent for a number of European chip companies that are, of course, driven by nearer-term financial considerations.
Meanwhile, data from World Semiconductor Trade Statistics and elsewhere has shown that the European manufacture of chips, and market for chips, have both been in decline for a number of years.
Kroes raised the level of rhetoric by asking whether Europe wants to be a global player or not, and whether it would not be better to opt for European consolidation and cooperation "on our own terms" before consolidation is forced upon European companies – for which one might read: "forces them out of existence."
In the past the European discussion has mainly been about collaborative R&D, billions of euros of which is already supported by the Commission. Now Kroes has cited the more interventionist example of Airbus SAS, one of the great European projects and one that has achieved considerable success.
Airbus is a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company NV (EADS), which was deliberately assembled from national defense and aerospace companies across Europe to provide strategic defensive independence at a continental level. It was also set up to produce a rival to Boeing at a commercial level, which it has done with some success. Airbus now produces about half the world's jet airliners.
- Risk-averse culture (because of big government?)
- Weak funding mechanisms (much smaller Seed/Bridge/Business Angel/VC pool of money compared to the US)
- Fragmented European markets e.g. when a bright kid in the US thinks of a social networking business, he/she has a 300-million market to start with, a European kid starts with 80 millions at best)
Does anybody else remember European Silicon Structures? Any lessons to be learned from that experience? I think it can hardly be claimed as a success, but maybe that was a case of too many innovations at once rather than too many Euro-cooks spoiling the broth.
I fear that the big, lumbering bureaucracy of Airbus, riddled with political compromise, fits in perfectly with the aerospace industry but would not last long in semiconductors
I often wonder why European Engineers do not want to come to the US for the many job opportunities in this country. There are lots of jobs for qualified engineers here. I have the sense that they prefer to remain within Europe and want the jobs to be created in the continent. Is there any over-riding reason. The jobs pay much better in the USA and the work is largely the same or better.
Why European engineers want to stay in Europe? Because, ever since the 1960s or 1970s, the standard of living in Europe has rivaled that of the US. Life is a balance of work and other activities, and what Europe offers is not easy to give up.
Yes, the pay might still be better in the US, and the professional aspects of the job are too, in my opinion. But that's not all there is to life, either.
Of course, as the news programs make painfully clear these days, that equation might be changing. Globalization is here to stay, and the Euro-socialist policies are catching up with them. We can only hope the US doesn't continue to head down that path too.
Many European engineers do migrate to the United States but I think the opportunities are far less than they were during the famous brain-drain time of the 1960s.
This is partly because those U.S. companies have themselves become globalized.
ST, Infineon, et al certainly got lots of taxpayer help in Europe and yet are "too small in themselves" in spite of all that help. Merging them and giving wider European support may be only thing that will keep them alive.
But nanoelectronics will not come out of the legacy microelectronics companies, in my opinion, just a diode makers failed to become transistor makers who then failed to become IC makers. I vote to the IMEC R/D approach.
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