The European Defense Union Strategic Compass and the Push for a Stronger Semiconductor Sector

The UN Brief interviewed Portugal’s Minister of National Defence, Dr. João Gomes Cravinho

Geneva, 21 September 2021 — Last week EU President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her State of the Union speech in Brussels to a fairly packed European Parliament, given that we are still in a pandemic. Masks were mandated, of course. In her introductory remarks praise for the solidarity displayed by Europe. But solidarity is not quite what the Global South experienced.

Why do we need solidarity?

In the end it is because if you don’t stop the spread in the Global South we will continue to see new variants and upsurges in the North. Solidarity is not the right word. The right words are: economic impact, in order to mobilise the European pharmaceutical industry. The economic impact of the sanitary crisis on the semiconductors sector, on jobs, and its reverberations on political stability.

The economic impact, the bottom line, speak the language that they will understand. Solidarity? Yes, that is necessary, we certainly should have more of that, but what will stop this pandemic is an appeal to the pharmaceutical industry, that often puts profit above people.

The European Defence Union

Approaching Greater Convergence and Alignment

The other very important point that von der Leyen addressed was the European Defence Union. The UN Brief interviewed Portugal’s Minister of National Defence, Dr. João Gomes Cravinho, on the geopolitical tectonic shifts underway.

We also spoke about the ways that the European Defence Union will be financed, and where its headquarters will be located. There seems to be greater convergence of EU nations on supporting this ambitious goal, as EU ministers of defence realise that no country can go alone in matters of security.

This past April, Portugal hosted a high-level meeting with EU ministers to flesh out the shape of the European Defence Union, the Strategic Compass, and we should see more discussions going forward later this year as well as early 2022, to define its structure and its financing.

The Strategic Compass will likely be approved by EU Member States in 2022. The document represents a very important foundation in policy guidance for the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy.


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* Portugal Minister of National Defence João Gomes Cravinho holds a doctorate in Politics from the University of Oxford. He is a career diplomat and has served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the European External Action Service, and was the European Union’s Ambassador to India from December 2011 to July 2015, and EU’s Ambassador to Brazil from August 2015 to October 2018.

50 Billion Euros for Pandemic Preparedness

By 2027 there will be another agency created for pandemic preparedness with an investment of 50 billion euros, and serious investments are expected in the semi-conductors sector, with the announcement of the European Chips Act.

The Digital Single Market: digital skills are central to the recovery, and 5G and fibre need investments too, stressed Von der Leyen.

Another announcement of interest is the creation of a program similar to Erasmus but for young adults that are not enrolled in university nor employed, who will receive an stipend, a paid internship, in another European Union country, to receive practical training in a profession. Its name is ALMA. It is framed by a vision by Jacques Delors, former EU president, and Robert Schumann, a founding father of the European Union. She also announced that 2022 would be celebrated as the Year of Youth, with many events planned by and for the young in Europe.

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But semiconductors are what is gripping everyone’s attention. Global demand has exploded. The dependency of the EU on Asia supply chains is a risky proposition, as we have seen during the pandemic, how it disrupted and still is slowing production in various sectors. The investment will be something akin to Galileo, she said, citing it as an example.

“Yes, this is a daunting task. And I know that some claim it cannot be done. But they said the same thing about Galileo 20 years ago. And look what happened. We got our act together. Today European satellites provide the navigation system for more than 2 billion smartphones worldwide. We are world leaders. So let's be bold again, this time with semiconductors.” Von der Leyen’s SOTEU speech on 15 September 2021.

Twitter caught fire with memes of Angela Merkel ordering chips, the ones you can taste, in Belgium.

It was amusing to see the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, the anti-trust chief, Margrethe Vestager, knitting too, as von der Leyen spoke of taxing Big Tech. Social media went wild once again, with knitting memes.

Vestager knits really fast too.

President Von der Leyen promised further investments in 5G and fibre, and digital skills. She said that the country-members were ready to come around and invest on it.

Another topic of interest, the ongoing role of the EU as the world’s regulator in chief. To curb the gatekeeper power of platforms and examine the ethical uses of artificial intelligence is in her sights too.

For our recovery, the Single Market is the driver of good jobs and competitiveness. That is particularly important in the digital single market. We have made ambitious proposals in the last year. To contain the gatekeeper power of major platforms. To underpin the democratic responsibility of those platforms. To foster innovation. To channel the power of artificial intelligence…That reflects the importance of investing in our European tech sovereignty. We have to double down to shape our digital transformation according to our own rules and values. Von der Leyen’s SOTEU speech.

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The European Chips Act

Many commentators have already given their informed opinions, slants, on the subject, an interesting read is FT Alan Beattie’s (paywall) that pointed out that Europe is already in the supply chain with the machinery that a Dutch manufacturer exports to China, that helps create the chips, and suggests that the ebb and flow of production demand works itself out, and increased production could glut the markets.

Of course EU production is of great geopolitical interest, technology self-sufficiency, as EU Commissioner Thierry Bretton said in a post on LinkedIn.

Allow me to focus on semiconductors, those tiny chips that make everything work: from smartphones and electric scooters to trains or entire smart factories.

There is no digital without chips. And while we speak, whole production lines are already working at reduced speed - despite growing demand - because of a shortage of semi-conductors.

But while global demand has exploded, Europe's share across the entire value chain, from design to manufacturing capacity has shrunk. We depend on state-of-the-art chips manufactured in Asia. So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. Von der Leyen’s SOTEU speech, 15 September 2021.

The UN Brief interviewed University of Oxford Professor Corneliu Bjola to comment on the geopolitics of the European Chips Act. Watch:

Dr. Corneliu Bjola

Associate Professor of Diplomatic Studies, University of Oxford

Corneliu Bjola received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto (2007) and previously taught and conducted research at McMaster University and the University of Toronto. He was a research fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defense Force Academy (2012) and China Foreign Affairs University (2016). 

His current research interests relate to the impact of digital technology on the conduct of diplomacy with a focus on strategic communication and digital influence as well as on theories and methods for countering disinformation and propaganda. 

His work has been published in Global AffairsEuropean Journal of International RelationsInternational NegotiationReview of International StudiesBritish Journal of Politics and International RelationsGlobal PolicyJournal of Global Ethics and The Hague Journal of Diplomacy.

Bjola is co-editor of the book series on 'New Diplomatic Studies' with Routledge, and Editor-in-Chief of the new journal Diplomacy and Foreign Policy. He is the recipient of the 2014 OxTALENT award for enhancing students' learning experience using social media apps awarded by the Oxford Committee on Teaching and Learning Enhanced with Technology.

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