Neelie Kroes talks up European tech initiative

Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for digital agenda, made a cameo appearance here at IEF 2013, in the initiative dubbed the Airbus of Chips.

In a short video, she said Europe had to pool its resources in the initiative, launched in May, with an ambitious roadmap intended to double semiconductor production here in a bid to catch up with the USA.

The real name of the project is the Public Private partnership on electronic components and systems – or Ecsel for short.

Khalil Rouhana, VP of the Digital Agenda, European Commissioner, said that the sector is essential for all of the economies in the bloc.

The aim is to reverse the trend of production capabilities in Europe. Europe is good in the automotive market but still manufactures a lot of logic technology. The EC will put 1.2 billion into the partnership, more money into graphene, and more R&D amounting to 3 billion over the next seven years.

The private sector is also expected to contribute to the partnership.

The objectve is to grow semi and smart system manufacturing in Europe, including manufacturing equipment and materials processing. The partnership wants to concentrate on cutting edge tech including 450mm wafers and 10nm process technology.

100 billion is expected to be committed to be R&D by 2020, creating jobs for quarter of a million people directly and indirectly.

Rouhana said that the initiative will really swing into action at the beginning of 2014. His talk prompted a panel discussion involving Intel, GloFo, Samsung, and Xmos.

The GloFo representative said his company endorsed the initiative. Europe has a very strong industrial base and the EC has finally realised that a push is needed. He said the US is driving a move to bring manufacturing back to the country, and Kroes’ initiative is similar.

Xmos CEO, Nigel Toon, representing the SME sector, said it was quite hard to see how small companies could directly benefit.  Rouhana, representing the EC, said it’s putting in place a scheme to link SMEs up with the project. It will put a fast track system in for SMEs with five percent of the budget dedicated to small companies.

Leonard Hobbs, R&D director at Intel Ireland, said the EC ambition was great. The move to larger wafers and smaller process nodes were welcome to Intel, and acknowledge that the company will play a role.

Young Sohn, chief strategy officer of Samsung, said his company has many European collaborators whether in R&D, wireless or analogue.  

Well, this is all very fine and dandy, but are the billions the EC spends going to really reverse the trend?  Which player, for example, is going to want to compete against the likes of Samsung and Intel and TSMC? We’re unlikely to see the non European companies quaking in their boots.