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SEMI calls for new European vision

Industry group calls for urgent commitment from the European Union and individual governments to six recommendations outlined in its white paper.

The competitiveness of the European semiconductor industry has diminished in recent years, and the region is running out of time to remedy the situation.

That s one of the conclusions in a white paper just published by the industry group Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI).

Released to coincide with this week s Semicon Europa event in Stuttgart, Germany, the white paper makes six recommendations to the European Union and its individual member states; steps that SEMI believes can restore lost European prominence in the semiconductor industry.

Heinz Kundert, the president of SEMI Europe, said, “It is vital [to] take immediate action to reinforce and revitalize our local industry, to ensure future competitiveness and viability.”

“[We] need a concerted vision from the industry, the EU and national governments to keep state-of-the-art manufacturing in Europe going.”

Although SEMI s paper is primarily concerned with the silicon industry, that vision would likely also encompass key compound semiconductor technologies, such as LEDs, high-efficiency solar cells, and low-loss switches based on materials such as GaN and SiC, all of which could play important roles in tackling problems like energy shortages and climate change.

The white paper states that, with the semiconductor industry on the cusp of a new growth era, Europe is in a position to become a global leader "“ if the right decisions are made.

Keeping a strong supply base of semiconductor manufacturing, as well as equipment and materials, is essential, says SEMI.

“An internationally competitive Europe depends on the presence of a strong European semiconductor industry.”

The trouble is that Europe has been losing ground on its global competitors for years. Behind Japan and the US for decades, Europe s semiconductor production capacity was estimated at just 12 per cent of the world s total in 2005.

Just a couple of years later, and that proportion is believed to have dipped below 10 per cent.

And, whereas other global regions have launched local semiconductor expertise through the creation of science parks and industry clusters via federal or state funding, Europe has lagged behind: “Unfortunately,” states the white paper, “neither the EU, nor any member state, has developed the political vision and the policy and economic instruments to strategically support the semiconductor industry and its suppliers.”

“This must be addressed urgently,” it said, stressing that Europe could only compete with the rest of the world if its local economic and political environment changed.

SEMI members are increasingly voicing their concern that European customers have left the continent and headed to Asia, thus weakening the local supply chain.

And although European equipment and materials suppliers export around the globe, countries such as China and Korea have invested heavily in this area to build their local supply chains.

As well as calling for additional research funding, the development of public-private R&D partnerships, and tax breaks for semiconductor companies, SEMI wants to see faster decisions over research funding, and more inter-continental collaboration between Europe, the US and Asia.

Rather more drastic, and perhaps beyond the powers of even the EU, is SEMI s request that the dollar/euro exchange range be tipped in favor of the dollar, to help European exporters become more competitive.

Other recommendations in the six-point charter call for simplified immigration of skilled workers, greater protection and enforcement of intellectual property developed in Europe, and the involvement of SEMI Europe in environment, health and safety (EHS) legislation.

The full white paper can be downloaded in .pdf form from SEMI s web site here.

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