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European Connections

The annual SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium was held in Paris in February. With the longest downturn for the industry the attendees were looking for positive feedback. David Ridsdale was there to see if expectations were met.
Paris was full of optimistic expectation for the annual SEMI ISS as the industry rejoiced that all the required factors were present to show that 2004 should be a boom year for the global microelectronics year. After the worst downturn in history it was welcome news. Despite the positive news there was sensible caution as the symposium discussed what lessons can be learnt from the last few years. A major question posed discussed European needs if the region is to remain a globally competitive industry at all levels of the food chain.

In line with the recent hype, China was a consistent issue. The question of the impact of China as a global player has been asked for the last two years and it may have been a surprise for many attendees how little impact the region will have on a global scale according to most speakers.

There were a wide range of speakers for the event covering an equally wide range of topics. Many of the talks discussed positive successes in Europe or outlined directions of the major players. Philips continued there impressive push for a connected consumer base while STMicroelectronics reiterated there perceived five industry megatrends and the company goal to focus on specific products within these trends. The automobile industry was represented and confirmed that this sector continues to be the true cornerstone of the European electronics industry.

The high quality positive feedback that people were hoping for was evident with every speaker expanding on the fiscal realities of a positive 2004. Not everyone was getting carried away with the excitement of a better year and caution was advised for the longer term future. No-one is fully aware of the potential impact of changes to a cyclical industry or how long the downturn will last. Bob Mariner of VLSI research put it succinctly after apologising for moving away from the positive hype. He rightly stated that after the worst downturn very few companies have deep pockets. The real concern is that this upturn may only last eighteen months and this is not enough time for companies to restock struggling bank accounts.

The speaker who most defined the general mood of the attendees was also the speaker who provided an outline of potential solutions. Elke Eckstein, Chief Executive Officer of Altis Semiconductor in France, drew from her experiences in the Taiwanese sector to outline the need for the European community to pro-actively wok together on research and manufacturing needs. Eckstein pointed out that Taiwan does not have issues with secrecy and working against each other. Her vision of a Europe Inc. is a layered concept of co-operation at all levels of the semiconductor value chain. As a starting point for discussion her presentation ensured co-operative issues became a topic in the coffee breaks.

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