By Desmond Hinton-Beales and Gerald Callaghan - 7th November 2012
Europe has good scientists and institutions, and wishes to be competitive
Lambert Van Nistelrooij
Smartphones, smart grids, smart cities, smart mobility. You can find chips everywhere, washing machines, cards, tablets, coffee machines. We even send chips to fight our battles now
Europe has been on the defensive for more than 10 years. There is a mindset that we don't do nano
Without the nanoelectronics sector there would be no viable defence sector, and without defence, investment in nanoelectronics would not be feasible
We need a multinational effort as there is not a strong European company to pull this together
Europe is missing a "critical mass" of policies and money for boosting its lagging micro and nanoelectronics sector, a Parliament Magazine roundtable has heard.
The event, held in the European parliament on Tuesday and organised in association with the Eniac joint undertaking, was hosted by Dutch EPP deputy Lambert van Nistelrooij.
Van Nistelrooij said, "Europe has good scientists and institutions, and wishes to be competitive", but stressed that the EU is "missing a critical mass of policies, money and countries" to support its nanoelectronics sector.
"We must translate research into projects in an integrated way, with public and private input if we are to build a bridge to a stronger position in global competition," he said.
The Eniac joint undertaking - a research programme aimed at enhancing the further integration and miniaturisation of devices and increasing their functionality – is headed up by executive director Andreas Wild who said "nanoelectronics provide the 'smart' in everything".
"Smartphones, smart grids, smart cities, smart mobility. You can find chips everywhere, washing machines, cards, tablets, coffee machines. We even send chips to fight our battles now."
"These are strategic technologies," stressed Wild, adding that Europe's investment in the semiconductors that make a lot of these technologies work "has diminished compared to the rest of the world".
"We should not be surprised if Europe is excluded from the value chain," he warned, adding that the EU "must increase leverage in public and private investment".
"All stakeholders must contribute: private sector, EU institutions, member states and joint undertakings."
Components and systems director for the commission's DG connect Khalil Rouhana said, "Europe has been on the defensive for more than 10 years. There is a mindset that we don't do nano."
However, Rouhana stressed that Europe still held the lead in some areas, including equipment manufacture, and said that digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes is planning a "strategic initiative" on this issue, which she will announce in the "next three to four months".
"We need to build value chains of European scale and take advantage of the size of our markets," he said, adding that the EU is the "number one market for microprocessors".
Michael Sieber, assistant director of research and technology at the European defence agency (EDA) said, "Without the nanoelectronics sector there would be no viable defence sector, and without defence, investment in nanoelectronics would not be feasible".
We are arriving at a point where "autonomous smart systems" are becoming more and more important, said Sieber, who added that, "There is a great industrial advantage to create future jobs in Europe through the nanoelectronics sector".
Carlos Mazure, executive vice-president of the Soitec Group, said "Semiconductors represent a very strong source of revenue" and that Europe has a lot of "knowhow" which it must exploit.
Mazure warned that value was being captured and jobs created outside of the EU due to its lack of "critical size", which also prevented European developments from being "adopted worldwide".
"A large amount of money is needed to maintain competitiveness in a fast moving environment," he said, adding that "Samsung and Intel alone are putting several times Europe's entire budget contribution into R&D".
"We need a multinational effort as there is not a strong European company to pull this together. We need billions, not millions, and fast decisions for a fast moving sector."