The European Union (EU) has been seeking deeper synergy with Taiwan's semiconductor ecosystem as it pursues greater autonomy in the sector. As a part of this effort, the EU-Taiwan Semiconductor Seminar was held in Taipei on May 30, gathering representatives from leading European semiconductor clusters.
In her opening remarks, Lucilla Sioli, the director for AI and digital industry at the European Commission, pointed out that even though the European semiconductor industry leads in R&D, manufacturing equipment, and raw materials, it faces capability gaps when it comes to intellectual property (IP), digital design, design tools, manufacturing, and packaging. The director also noted that the EU is missing the capability to translate its R&D prowess into new markets. The EUR43 billion European Chips Act, finallized last month, partly aimed to "bridge the gap from lab to fab", according to Sioli.
Alongside measures to develop new pilot lines, provide a virtual chip design platform, and set up a dedicated chip fund to faciliate SME access to equity and loans, a network of regional competence centers also underpins European efforts to bridge the gap. According to Sioli, these competence centers possess distinct areas of expertise that can match with user needs. In addition, they can also facilitate access to design platforms, pilot lines and support technology transfers.
Participants of the event include representatives of such regional competence centers: Frank Bösenberg, the managing director of Germany's Silicon Saxony, Pascal Viaud, the ambassador of French Silicon Valley, and Maciej Nowakowski, the director of operations of the Polish Technology Platform for Photonics (PPTF). Ther German state of Saxony currently hosts the biggest microelectronics cluster in Europe, with every third microchip made on the continent coming from the region. Saxony is also the site where TSMC is considering to build its first European fab. As an independent industrial network, Silicon Sacony also has 460 members, mainly SMEs covering approximately 80% of the whole ICT value chain. With the potential investment from TSMC, the region hopes other players of Taiwan's semiconductor ecosystem to follow up. Though TSMC has grabbed most of the spotlight, Bösenberg also believes that green manufacturing presents a cooperation opportunity between Europe and Taiwan.
When it comes to cooperation opportunities with Taiwan, Nowakowski points to Poland's strong competency and fast pace in the field of photonics. Currently, the Polish Technological Platform on Photonics coordinates the microelectronics, electronics and photonics cluster in Poland. According to Nowakowski, there are approximately 250 companies in Poland's photonics and microelectronics industry, with 90% of them being SMEs. Among the country's strengths are photonic IC design, III-V semiconductors, OLED and PV materials, and industrial femtosecond lasers.
Sharing his observations on EU-Taiwan semiconductor cooperation, Dr. Mathieu Duchâtel, director of the Asia program from Paris-based think tank Institute Montaigne, indicated that the main target of European public policies remains support for R&D and innovation, instead of manufacturing. However, manufacturing will present more supply chain opportunities for Taiwanese SMEs.
Notably, as semiconductor and geopolitics become intertwined, Sioli from the European Commission emphasized that the EU is not pursuing a strategy to de-couple from China, but is instead "de-risking" its supply chain. Given the dual-use nature of semiconductors, especially compound semiconductors and silicon photonic technologies that have significant defense applications, DIGITIMES Asia asked if there are concerns that some technologies will be targeted by EU export controls regime in the future, thus impeding transnational technology cooperation. Giuseppe Izzo, STMicroelectronics' VP for Asia Pacific, observed the continuously evolving nature of export controls regimes as well as the blurred line between civilian and military applications, making it hard for the industry to anticipate relevant measures.
Maciej Nowakowski, director of operations of Polish Technology Platform for Photonics