LONDON A long-awaited strategy document from the European Commission on technology shows hints of a climate of increased protectionism within Europe, where the beleaguered technology-based industry has suffered more than its equivalents in many other regions.
report lists nanotechnology, microelectronics including semiconductors, photonics, advanced materials and biotechnology as key enabling technologies that must be supported and coins the acronym KETs to group these technologies together.
For a region that is at risk of watching the destruction of chipmakers such as NXP BV and Infineon Technologies Inc. and which is concerned about the diminution of leading-edge chip making in Europe, the fact that electronics and semiconductors have been labeled as strategic comes as a relief.
Groups such as the European wing of the industry group SEMI have been campaigning for more than 12 months to raise the awareness of electronics and semiconductors amongst the bureaucrats and politicians that inhabit Brussels. It would appear that their work has been successful. "Within ICT [Information and Communications Technologies], specific fields such as micro- and nanoelectronics and photonics deserve immediate policy actions given the situation of the EU industry in global competition and the challenges stemming from the economic crisis," the report said, before failing to provide any concrete or immediate policy actions.
For a region that is suffering, as others are, from reduced tax revenues and increased social welfare spending because of climbing unemployment, throwing additional money at R&D is not an option.
Instead the report comes up with a list of ten things that could or should be done to promote and support the key enabling technologies for wealth creation in Europe. These can be summed up under three headings; a re-examination of state aid rules; the pursuit of trade aspects such as blocking other countries from distorting markets through illegal subsidies; and providing increased access to venture capital and private equity finance.
Meanwhile there are the usual hand-waving arguments beloved of politicians and bureaucrats about doing more with less, about leverage and better coordination of activity for better outcomes.