European electronics companies are still lagging behind their international competitors in the microelectronics arena, according to a study from the German chip manufacturers' association, GMM.
The results, presented at the Convention of National Societies of Electrical Engineers of Europe (Eurel) Forum, revealed European headquartered developers took only 10.3 per cent of the worldwide market last year, a slide from 11.2 per cent in 1990.
US developers surged past Japanese chip manufacturers to take 46.3 per cent but Japanese firms still command an enviable 35.4 per cent of the market.
John Midwinter, Eurel president, said: "Progress has been made but the European microelectronics industry still has a great deal of ground to make up and needs all the support it can get.
"In Europe we only produce half the number of silicon chips we consume and our consumption per head is only half that of the other two major manufacturing blocs," he continued.
Midwinter called for the need to make European policy makers more aware of the benefits of a healthy European microelectronics sector as well as the specific problems of the industry.
"You can't see chips, they are so invisible that scarcely any mention is made of them, but this lack of public knowledge about microelectronics and interest in it must not be allowed to permeate thinking when it comes to policy.
"It is our job to attract attention to the crucial importance of microelectronics. Today we face a problem with potentially disasterous consequences. The pool of technical expertise is shrinking, just at the time we need it most," he warned.
A number of speakers at the forum also raised the issue of the shortage of skilled electrical engineers in Europe. Galway Johnson, head of IT at the European Commission's industry directorate, said European policy makers are taking this problem very seriously.
"The European IT industry is growing at nearly eight per cent a year, but we still have some serious problems. The skills shortage is the most pressing and the slow take up of technology, particularly in southern Europe, is another," said Johnson.
"We are pursuing a number of push and pull policies at the Commission to raise awareness among member states of the need for better training and to pay more attention to scientific skills," he said.
Johnson said the European Union's research and development (R&D) programmes are the most important among the 'push' policies.
Another commission official, David Broster, prinicipal scientific officer, said the 1998 to 2002 Fifth Framework R&D programme would not disappoint the European microelectronics industry.
"I think the final amount allocated for chip R&D will be very similar to the amount for the current programme. What will be different is how that money is spent and how we focus our efforts. That is what we are working on right now," said Broster.
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