Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, and Maria Merced, European president of TSMC, are reported to be heading into the discussions with the European Commission. Samsung Electronics is also expected to take part.
The European Union has stated that it wants to reverse the downward trend and see Europe making 20 percent of global chip output. It has also said it wants to return to leading edge chip manufacturing 2nm. This is after spending about 30 years of European chip companies moving to fab-lite strategies and outsourcing their digital manufacturing to Asia.
Margrethe Vestage, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the digital age, and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, are expected to release details of the Commission’s strategy to reverse decades of decline in semiconductor manufacturing.
It is notable that the Intel CEO has come to Europe for the talks. He is likely the most amenable to building a wafer fab with European funds. Meanwhile TSMC and Samsung, are likely to say no, preferring to spend in Taiwan and South Korea, respectively, and in the United States, which is the guarantor of their independence from China.
The European Commission is rumoured to be touting the vision of a joint venture or partnership with TSMC or Samsung to locate a wafer fab somewhere in France, in Dresden Germany, although elsewhere in Europe.
While the ability to make 2nm chips may be strategic to European politicians it has proved too capital-intensive for European chip executives and their shareholders. In addition European manufacturing sectors such as automotive and industry do not need leading-edge digital chips in volume. These tend to go to consumer electronics and computing equipment, which is no longer made in Europe.
Many observers have called these ambitions naïve and impossible (see European 2nm chip fab a “futile endeavour,” says think tank). Certainly, indigenous chip companies have little or no interest in the digital leading edge – except as foundry customers – as Neelie Kroes found out in 2013, when she was European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.
Others have said that Europe as a continent must have ambition and be consistent over the long-term. And that all such journeys start with a first step.
It is possible that Intel, which under incoming CEO Gelsinger has said it want to re-enter the foundry market, could be the person most likely to bite on the European Commission’s offer, although Intel itself has been falling off the leading-edge over several years due to problems with bringing up its chip manufacturing processes at the 10nm and 7nm nodes. Intel itself is having to increase its outsourcing at the leading edge.
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