The European Commission is open to loosening state-aid rules for semiconductor projects, though such public hand-outs will face tough scrutiny from the antitrust authorities. “The Commission will consider approving support to fill possible funding gaps in the semiconductor ecosystem, in particular for European first-of-a-kind facilities,” but “strong safeguards will ensure such aid is necessary, appropriate and proportionate, and undue competition distortions are minimized,” said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager at a press conference.
The benefits of state of any state intervention “must be shared widely and without discrimination across the European economy,” Vestager continued. “And each case for the supply of semiconductors will be rigorously assessed based on their own respective merits. So as to ensure that projects have a European nature and avoid a subsidy race within the Union and beyond.”
It’s not entirely clear if, given these conditions, a European leading-edge fab is still in the cards. Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, has been campaigning to bolster Europe’s semiconductor ecosystem, including partnering up with non-EU companies to construct sub-10nm fabs on European soil. He wants Europe to become a global powerhouse for chips again.
Vestager, however, considers self-sufficiency an illusion. “When you think about the scale of what is needed, it is clear that no country and no company can do it alone. But we cannot rely on one country or one company alone, either. That’s why the aim should be diversification among like-minded partners, to build resilient supply chains, and avoid single points of failure.”