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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Tectonic plates are moving!

After several conversations with veterans of the secure transactions industry, what they find the most striking point in Trustech, a major event for our industry, is the evolution of the structure of the exhibitors: after the Covid and its aftermath, the exhibitors and the attendance are back to the international feeling we all like!

Years ago, when Trustech was called Cartes, one may remember the largest booths at the entrance were those of Gemalto (now Thales), Oberthur and Morpho Safran (now merged in Idemia) and Giesecke & Devrient. Now, in addition to the traditional players from France, Germany, the US, etc. numerous booths representing Chinese corporations are present at Trustech.

The secure transactions industry is not different from others: the emergence and growth of China is probably one of the major characteristics of the first decades of the XXIst century. According to the beliefs of the 1980s and the 1990s, the western world was to concentrate services and on high-end R&D while it could transfer manufacturing activities to locations where wages were significantly lower. Fabless corporations were the fad of the time, and one was dreaming of setting up R&D in Europe while all the manufacturing was to be performed in Asia.

However, the western world beliefs were not monolithic: Germany kept its technological advance and stress on manufacturing. Manufacturing machine vendors in Trustech include a significant number of German players along with their Chinese counterparts.

In China, around 10 million students graduate from university every year, according to People Daily, out of which 1.3 million get an engineering degree. Who could believe in the previous century these engineers would not be creative and develop new concepts and products? China is now ahead of the rest of the world in numerous domains, including Artificial Intelligence.

Europe, which is always slow in making decisions, due to its structure as an association of nation states, has launched its reindustrialization plans, under the impulsion of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market. The best example, relating to our industry is the European Chips Act (ECA), which aims at developing, or redeveloping, semiconductor expertise and manufacturing in the EU. As of now, Europe accounts for 10% marketshare in the global chips market, the goal of ECA is to bring this share to 20% and to improve Europeans' expertise in these domains. European authorities claim there will be EUR 43 billion in public funding to achieve these goals. Nevertheless, we know that European projects are often hindered by slow and inefficient decision process, that a semiconductor fab is a complex endeavor, that regulations slow down industrial developments, etc. There is no certainty ECA will ever reach its objectives, and that it will not be too late for Europe to be back to being a significant player in the industrial world.

At the same time, our world becomes everyday a more dangerous place, with several wars occurring at the same time. Analysts, such as Alain Bauer, consider our times are the return of the Empires: the American Empire, the Russian Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire etc. In this conflagration of empires, Europe as a vast democratic economic zone lacks decision capacity. There are little plans now for us not to become the next victim of the Empires clash.

Europe is making economic plans. Will its reindustrialization happen before the next war? Or is it too little and too late?

Photo credits: Photos by Peter Herrmann, by Laura Ockel and by NASA, all on Unsplash

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