Europe... "going alone at microchips"? Finally!
Late, but never too late.
Microelectronics makes ALL our world work. Unfortunately Europe, being only about 10 percent of the global microchips industry, is really exposed to supply shocks in this sector, be they from pandemics, or from “political showdowns over microchips between the U.S. and China”.
That’s why, in order to not be pushed into a new Cold War over components so vital for all its industries and services, a few weeks ago the European Union officially announced that it is “seeking its own chip champions”.
Microelectronics is geopolitical
Quoting from Politico:
- (in February 2021) European policymakers identified the chip shortages as a key strategic concern.
- “In the coming years we will see a certain number of tensions … in the field of semiconductors, that can have implications, including geopolitical ones,” (EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton)
- Europe “wants to be an independent Continent when it comes to technology.” (France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire)
- Both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel support Le Maire’s work to set up an “alliance for semiconductors” that would support local chip firms and would also funnel public cash into building up production capacity in Europe
Almost the only thing that’s wrong in these announcements is why they weren’t made twenty or thirty years ago. Microchips a geopolitical issue? Gee, who could have thought?
But better late than never. I am still very happy to read such declarations, and really hope they will concretize as soon as possible. Because me, I have been saying for nine years now that Europe should make its own microprocessors, FPGAs, and open microelectronics in general.
These days, considering what is happening, and will continue to happen, between the US and China, every government should hail REGIONAL microprocessors. As far as Europe goes, a RISC-V processor may be the most important “Made in EU” product that doesn’t exist yet.
Doing the right thing, for the wrong reason
Apart from coming so late, the only sad and not exactly bright, or forward-looking part of this awakening is what caused it. Those announcement are a direct consequence of the fact that, when COVID19 arrived, European carmakers were “caught off guard by how quickly supply disruptions in the semiconductor industry reduced output” of their factories. “Tens of thousands of cars are not produced for lack of electronic components”, lamented Le Maire.
So, what finally caused an awakening overdue for decades is lost production of something that has become falsely smart, uselessly complex and, at least in Europe, should be sold less, not more. It is, that is, a really unnecessary, stupid shortage.