Policy brief

A new direction for the European Union’s half-hearted semiconductor strategy

The EU needs a more targeted strategy to increase its presence in this strategic and thriving sector, building on its existing strengths, while accomm

Publishing date
15 July 2021

The authors thank Sybrand Brekelmans, Viktor Krozer, Guntram Wolff and Georg Zachmann for their comments.

A basic component in electronic devices, semiconductors are essential to the production of many products, from smartphones to cars. Securing reliable supplies of semiconductors to safeguard the production lines of a range of industries has thus become an important policy goal, especially in the context of an increasingly confrontational international environment in which high-technology leadership is also associated with military power and geopolitical reach.

The semiconductor sector is highly concentrated, capital- and R&D-intensive, and particularly exposed to bottlenecks and political risks. High-end chip fabrication is centred in Asia, dominated by the duopoly of Taiwan’s TSMC and South Korea’s Samsung. In other parts of the supply chain, companies in the United States and Europe hold relative monopolies that have been leveraged for trade sanctions. The United States has taken steps to block the supply of chips and components to emerging tech giants in China, and to contain China’s ambitions of building its own cutting-edge chip production capacities.

Heavy United states and Chinese investment poses a challenge to the European Union, which in response has set the goal of increasing European production beyond domestic demand. To increase its presence in this strategic and thriving sector, the EU needs a more targeted strategy that builds on its existing strengths while accommodating its relatively low domestic needs. Instead of investing public funds in a subsidy war over fabrication capacity, the EU should focus on inputs and chip design. However, no economy can hope to fully achieve independence in the sector and ensuring sustainable supply through diplomatic means should therefore also be a priority. Lastly, Europe’s small role in global semiconductor production is symptomatic of shortcomings in the European environment for high-tech innovation. These shortcomings should be addressed.

Recommended citation:
Poitiers, N. and P. Weil (2021) 'A new direction for the European Union’s half-hearted semiconductor strategy', Policy Contribution 17/2021, Bruegel

About the authors

  • Niclas Poitiers

    Niclas Poitiers, a German citizen, joined Bruegel as a research fellow in September 2019.

    Niclas' research interests include international trade, international macroeconomics and the digital economy.  He is working on topics on e-commerce in trade as well as European trade policy in global trade wars. Furthermore he is interested in topics on income inequality and welfare state policies.

    He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Universitat de Barcelona, a M.Sc. in economics from the Universität Bonn, and a B.Sc. from Universität Mannheim. During his Ph.D. he was a visiting scholar at Northwestern University.

    Niclas is fluent in English, Spanish, and German.

  • Pauline Weil

    Pauline works at Bruegel as a Research Analyst. She holds a bachelor in Political Science and a master’s degree in International Trade and Finance from Sciences Po Lille. She also studied an MSc in Political Economy of Europe at the London School of Economics.

    Her research interests include monetary policy, sovereign debt sustainability, trade and the energy transition. Pauline’s two regions of expertise are Europe and Asia.

    She wrote a master’s thesis on the European Stability and Growth Pact by focusing on Greece’s adoption of the euro and its government debt crisis. And her second master’s thesis questioned the political and economic sustainability of the Franc CFA currency in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) in the context of European integration.

    Prior to Bruegel, Pauline was a Junior Economist for the credit insurer Coface where she provided country risk analysis on Europe, working from Paris, and then on Asia, from Hong Kong. She also pursued the Blue Book Traineeship at the European Commission, working for DG DEVCO in the Directorate for Asia.

    Pauline is fluent in French and English and has a good command of Spanish.

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