EESC opinion to strengthen the European semiconductor strategy

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union comprising representatives of workers' and employers' organisation and other interest groups. It is consulted by the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission on a variety of subjects. Recently, the EESC – together with Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) – issued an opinion on structural shortages and strengthening strategic autonomy in the semiconductor industry.

The opinion regards the EU Chips Act and points out crucial problematics that deserve further attention, to develop an efficient, long-lasting, and innovative European semiconductor strategy.  

The key outtakes from the opinion-document are the following:  

  1. Challenges for the EU semiconductor strategy 

The demand for and use of chips will only surge in the future. The EESC highlights the importance of developing chips and semiconductors strategies that foster the competitiveness of key manufacturing industries, while reinforcing semiconductor capabilities within the Union. Moreover, the EESC calls for ambitious plans to cut the sector's emissions of greenhouse gases using cutting-edge technologies and renewable energy sources. 

  1. Competitiveness and strategic autonomy 

The EECS stresses the need to strengthen Europe's technological sovereignty in the semiconductor sector. This field has become a strategic technological area and the EU lacks manufacturing capabilities. The EU must invest in areas where European dependency on foreign technology providers is very high.

  1. EU stakeholder involvement, international cooperation, and strategic partnerships

The EESC considers that international cooperation between governments, semiconductor clusters, and R&D institutions is vital to address the current shortages and ensure mutual trust to achieve a level playing field. However, the Committee suggests a revision of the existing free trade agreements and international industrial partnerships, with a clear view to achieving open strategic autonomy and increasing Europe's resilience, in an ever more complicated geopolitical context.

  1. Financing

The EESC appreciates the EUR 43 billion announced in the EU Chips Act. However, it points out that investment should be targeted in areas where European dependency on foreign technology providers is remarkably high. The Committee would like to see an economically efficient but balanced distribution of EU funds between MS and regions. More importantly, it calls for practical guidance, especially for start-ups and SMEs, on how these funds can be accessed.

  1. Skills

The Committee considers that policy programmes must help the EU labour market to acquire essential specific skills, especially for workers from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The EESC also calls for specific attention for up and re-skilling, lifelong learning, VET and adult learning programme to help the EU labour market not to lag.

  1. R&D&I

 The EESC highlights that, unfortunately, many of the innovations developed by the EU's RTOs (Research and Technology Organisation)  are taken up in other parts of the world and have not led to a stronger EU manufacturing base. The Committee believes that special investment should be directed towards R&D in chip design.

To conclude:

The Committee calls for more advancement in cybersecurity innovation, defence against cyberattacks, and improved readiness for new and innovative cybersecurity threats.

The EESC believes that the European semiconductor strategy should promote all stages of the semiconductor value chain, with a special focus on the design and manufacturing of chips and back-end production.  

Furthermore, the Committee appreciates the work that the European Commission has done on the Chip Acts but points out that too little emphasis is given to the importance of raw materials, the circularity of the production processes, the existing dependency on third countries, and calls for increased attention on guaranteeing access to the key raw materials used in the production of semiconductors.

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Source: EESC-2022-03749-00-00-AS-TRA, addressing structural shortages and strengthening strategic autonomy in the semiconductor ecosystem, Rapporteur: Anastasis YIAPANIS (Gr.III-CY), Co-rapporteur: Guido NELISSEN