Biting The Euro-Hand That Feeds You

The MEDEA+ meeting in Budapest did the ritual bemoaning of the limited public spending which Europe bestows on its high-tech industries but, in some ways, companies are lucky to get any subsidies at all, if you look at some of their past behaviour.

Going right back to the Philips-Siemens MegaProject of the ’80s, one remembers the outrage of the German government when Siemens Semiconductors went and teamed up with Toshiba to get the technology for 1Mbit DRAM technology on which the German government had spent a fortune. Then, of course, there was another shock for the German authorities after they had massively funded Infineon Technologies, the reincarnation of Siemens Semiconductors, to take the lead role in developing 300mm technology, only for Infineon to transfer the technology to the Taiwanese companies Nanya and ProMos. Finally, the French were mightily miffed when, after hugely subsidizing Crolles2, and even sending their President Jacques Chirac to open it, the three participants, NXP, STMicroelectronics and Freescale pulled out of the basic CMOS R&D project, and announced their intentions of going outside Europe for their core microelectronics technology. Suddenly that old tenet of Pasquale Pistorio that ‘every macro-economic region has to have controlled access to microelectronics technology to maintain its industrial prosperity’ – the old argument for the public financing of European microelectronics R&D – was thrown back in the faces of the public authorities. Who needs independence? asks a new generation of microelectronics companies’ CEOs. We’ll get our core technology from IBM of the US, and TSMC of Taiwan, they say. But while it’s all very well to cavalierly chuck away the technological independence which was hard-won by a previous generation, when they’re utterly dependent on the US or Taiwan for their core technology, will these CEOs still be able to get it at an acceptable price. Maybe not.

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