Europe investing €5 billion to boost electronics sector

The investements should help Europe become a leader in electronics design and manufacturing, the European Commission said

The European Commission is partnering with the private sector to invest €5 billion (US$6.8 billion) in Europe's electronics sector.

The Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL) initiative, launched Tuesday, aims to help the electronics industry contend with fierce global competition, high research costs and the fast pace of technology development, the Commission said.

The initiative wants to bring together European manufacturers, technology companies, chip designers, software developers, researchers and universities at the early stages of product and service development to bring research closer to the market, the Commission said.

"Today our growth comes from innovation; and most innovation comes from digital technology. And underpinning virtually all of it are some kind of chips or systems based on them," Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda said in a speech.

"From your home to your hospital, your car to your pocket, few of us today could imagine living without the innovations they enable. And whatever the challenge you're trying to fix -- whether it's giving industry a productivity boost, or fixing climate change -- chances are there'll be a chip involved somewhere," she said, adding that she hoped ECSEL will help the European tech sector to stay competitive.

The EU will invest €1.18 billion into the ECSEL initiative while EU member states and non-EU states will invest €1.17 billion and over €2.34 billion will be contributed by industrial partners, the Commission said

The program will operate until December 2024 and is a merger of the ARTEMIS embedded systems initiative, the ENIAC nanoelectronics initiative and the European Technology Platform (ETP) on smart systems integration, which were set up in 2008.

The first round of ECSEL projects can be proposed July 9 to Sept. 17. Funding notification will come by mid-December.

So far, about 1,500 European companies, research institutes and universities have expressed interest in proposing at least 74 projects worth €2.9 billion in first-round funding, said Alun Foster, ECSEL's head of plan and dissemination.

"Not all of those project proposals will end up actually being funded. If you stick a wet finger in the air and guess, than we can say that roughly a quarter of those projects would actually become fundable," he said.

Meanwhile, some earlier technology projects partially funded with EU money are already well underway. One of them is PASTA, short for Platform for Advanced Smart Textile Operations, which is focused on electronic packaging and interconnection technology to produce smart textiles -- for instance, bed linens that monitor a patient's temperature and other health signs. The technology could also be used in sports, logistics and construction, the Commission said.

Another health-related project partially funded with EU money combines a diagnostic system based on smart cards and skin patches with a portable reader to wirelessly send test results to a remote computer, a tablet or a smartphone. The setup, developed by the Spanish company POC MicroSolutions, can be used to monitor colon cancer, identify bacteria in food and analyze environmental contamination.

The ECSEL initiative is a key part of the Commission's Electronics Strategy for Europe launched in May last year. By 2020, the Commission aims to double the value of EU micro-chip production to reach 20 percent of worldwide production, facilitate industry investment of €100 billion and create 250,000 jobs.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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