Technician repairing a smartphone

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Just weeks after issuing an invitation to voice interest in a European hydrogen project on 14 January 2021, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has called for expressions of interest in another forward-looking European project. This time, funding for microelectronics and communications technology is on offer. A notice to this effect (PDF, 327 KB) was published in the Federal Gazette yesterday afternoon. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is planning to use so-called “Important Projects of Common European Interest” (IPCEIs) to provide funding for research, investment and first industrial deployment, with a focus on digital sovereignty, security, and sustainability. Companies have until 1 March to submit their project abstracts.

Said Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier: “We want Germany and Europe to be more sovereign in the field of microelectronics and communications technology and less dependent on imports. Our companies need reliable supply chains and a strong and broad-based microelectronics sector owning patents, developments, and manufacturing sites in Germany and in the EU. An important project of common European interest will deliver the necessary momentum for investment. I call upon companies to be bold and look to the future as they decide on their investments, and to make sure that Europe is strong on forward-looking technologies such as 5G, 6G, and OpenRAN.”

Semiconductors are the “hidden champions” of the digital transformation and of interconnection. Microelectronics plays a key role in many innovations ranging from mobile phones to cars. Against this backdrop, the new IPCEI is intended to channel funding into projects in fields in which Europe is lagging behind or dependent on non-European companies. This applies to the development, design, and production of relevant hardware and also software components.

IPCEI procedures allow for public-sector funding to be granted at national level for certain projects that make an important contribution to the growth and competitiveness of the European industrial sector and to the strategic objectives of the European Union. This type of pan-European industrial policy has already been shown to be successful by the two existing IPCEIs on battery cell production and microelectronics. In 2017, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy assumed the role of coordinator for the first IPCEI on microelectronics. In that project, Germany and other Member States provided funding for innovative approaches in microelectronics. The new IPCEI is to follow on from there.

The initiative for this new large-scale project was shaped in December 2020, during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, when 19 Member States signed a joint declaration on the establishment of a European initiative in the field of microprocessors and semiconductor technologies.

In issuing the call for expressions of interest, Germany is now taking a first step towards the actual establishment of an IPCEI on microelectronics and communications technologies.