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European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton speaks at a media conference on the EU approach to Artificial Intelligence following a weekly meeting of EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, on April 21, 2021.

POOL/Reuters

European industry chief Thierry Breton will hold discussions with the chief executive of chip maker Intel and a top executive of Taiwanese competitor TMSC on April 30, as the EU seeks to shield itself from shocks in the global supply chain.

Breton will meet Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger in Brussels next Friday and will also hold a video conference with Maria Marced, President of TMSC Europe, on the same day, the European Commissioner said.

“Increasing our autonomy does not mean isolating ourselves in a world where supply chains are global,” Breton told Reuters.

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“In parallel to exploring how we can increase Europe’s capacity...we will continue to build bridges with international partners – but with us in the driving seat,” he added, confirming the meetings.

Breton is seeking to persuade a leading chip maker to site a major fabrication plant in the EU that would help realize the Commission’s strategic goal of securing the most advanced chip production technology over the next decade.

The ambition, contained in the Commission’s Digital Compass strategy, foresees doubling Europe’s share of global semiconductor production to 20% and producing the most advanced 2 nanometre chips by 2030.

Breton’s push for technology ‘sovereignty’ comes as a surge in demand for everything from consumer electronics to cars has disrupted global supply chains and exposed the continent’s reliance on chips made in Asia.

FLYING IN

Gelsinger, new in the job, has announced his intent to build a ‘fab’ in Europe as part of a strategy reset in which Intel would launch a foundry – or contract manufacturing – division and invest billions in new production capacity.

Yet, say sources in Brussels, Breton is keener to reel in TSMC, which is widely regarded as the undisputed industry leader and has a better command of the most advanced manufacturing processes. TSMC declined to comment.

Analysts caution that siting a major plant in Europe could prove to be a strategic blunder because the continent – which neither makes high-end electronics nor has a modern chip-design industry – lacks a viable market.

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Local chip makers such as Infineon, STM and NXP gave up their aspirations to stay at the leading edge years ago and are now niche players focusing on segments like automotive.

Still, with Breton setting his sights on a major investment, speculation is circulating about where a future ‘eurofab’ might be sited, with his native France, Germany’s Dresden cluster and nearby Poland mentioned as potential locations.

Gelsinger is also expected to travel to Germany during his visit to Europe next week, Politico cited an Intel official as saying.

An Intel spokesperson based in Munich did not confirm this and the German Economy Ministry declined to comment, saying it did not confirm or deny meetings as a matter of policy.

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