After years of hesitation, Europe wants to start drilling thicker boards in promising future industries: for example in battery technology, in electric cars, in quantum, nano or biotechnology.

But especially in the semiconductor industry.

Because the global bottlenecks in the supply of processors, sensors and memory chips have not only alarmed local car manufacturers and customers from the mechanical engineering sector, but also politicians.

Stephan Finsterbusch

Editor in business.

  • Follow I follow

After Brussels had effectively left the industry behind for 20 years, accepted the demise or sale of European providers such as the memory chip manufacturer Qimonda AG or, most recently, the German-British chip design house Dialog Semiconductor as given in the market or in conformity with the competition, and stood idly by the simultaneous rise of state-subsidized providers from Asia , suddenly it can't go fast enough: within a decade, the EU wants to create a “high-class European chip ecosystem”, according to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in her “State of the Union Address”. According to this, the development of local production capacities is to be accelerated and the chip market share in Europe is to be increased from nine percent to at least 20 percent of the industry's turnover.

The ambitious target would mean quadrupling the current turnover of the industry in Europe - from 50 billion to 200 billion dollars.

The semiconductor industry will grow rapidly over this decade.

According to forecasts, this year it will generate more than $ 500 billion for the first time.

In 2030, the proceeds should be twice as high.

“It took the global chip industry around 70 years to generate annual sales of half a trillion dollars;

it will take ten years to make it to $ 1,000 billion, "said Thomas Caulfield, CEO of chip maker GlobalFoundries, during a customer meeting a few days ago.

Intel boss in Europe

The reason: Semiconductors are in demand and sought-after like never before.

After all, they are the basic building blocks of a fully digitized economy.

Chips are at the heart of modern devices, they also turn systems and even entire factories into computers that not only process huge amounts of data, but can also hear, see and talk to each other.

Cars steering their way through traffic as if by magic, self-adjusting machines or the entire Industry 4.0, in which companies communicate with companies without human intervention, are no longer conceivable without chips.

The economy is in the midst of a technical revolution - and that must not bypass Europe through a sleepy chip strategy.

That is why Brussels is now working hard to upgrade.

The American industry leader Intel has already promised a billion dollar investment "on the mainland of Europe". The Taiwanese contract manufacturer TSMC is also said to be interested in manufacturing in Europe. Bosch has just opened a factory in Dresden, Europe's largest chip production site to date. Infineon has just opened the gates of a new plant at its location in Villach, Austria. The Swiss STMicroelectronics Group and the American GlobalFoundries are also investing billions in their existing plants in Europe.

Against this background, after China and America, the Europeans are now starting to set up state-sponsored development programs for their chip industry. For good reason: Europe still shared the entire industry cake with Japan and America in 1990, today the pieces have become significantly smaller - a descent that is almost unparalleled. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, therefore asked mockingly: "Has anyone at a crucial point spoken out in favor of abolishing this industry in Europe?"

The answer is probably: no. But at the beginning of the 1990s, the European location still had a market share of 44 percent in the global chip industry; today it is barely 9 percent. The decline was evident in the long term. In view of the disinterest in politics and many industrial customers, it was feared by the leading minds of the industry 15 years ago and described in numerous studies by independent market observers such as BCG or the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Keywords: