Europe’s semiconductor companies look for greater support in Horizon Europe

There is horse trading ahead, but Bert De Colvenaer, head of the EU’s €5B electronics and systems partnership is pleased to see the successor project taking shape. Industry wants a bigger budget and for larger companies to continue to get public funding.

For more than 30 years, Europe has been trying to matter in global semiconductor markets. Would it surprise you to know that, with European Commission help, it’s trying again?

Among the list of suggested partnerships to be funded in the next EU research programme, Horizon Europe, is Key Digital Technologies, the successor to the current EU project in the field, Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL), a €5 billion effort to revive Europe’s semiconductor industry.

The new partnership would have more or less the same remit as ECSEL, but with added emphasis on cybersecurity and technologies including artificial intelligence.

The suggestions for new public private partnerships are preliminary; they could change over the coming months and will require agreement among EU member states and the European Parliament to get through.

Nevertheless, Bert De Colvenaer, ECSEL’s executive director is pleased to see the new proposals shaping up. “I’m happy that it starts to materialise,” he said. After a slow start, “I think it’s good that we’re now starting to have more intensive discussions.”

The idea of European chip makers banding together for R&D help against Asian and American competitors is literally as old as EU research funding programmes: worried about the “technology gap” with the US, EU officials started funding electronic-component research, and in the mid-1980s European firms banded together with national government support to compete in memory chips. The results so far have been mixed: European manufacturers today have a modest 14 per cent of the global components market, but have strong positions in individual market niches.

Four years into the ECSEL partnership, there are signs of a competitive revival, with Germany’s Infineon Technologies announcing earlier this month that it is buying the US chip company Cypress Semiconductors for €9 billion, while in May the Dutch group NXP Semiconductors said was acquiring the WiFI business of Marvell Technology Group for €1.76 billion.

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Image source: European Patients’ Forum