October 3, 2023

AI, quantum, semiconductors and biotech on EU’s list of critical tech

The list comes as the EU seeks to protect sovereignty in the face of China’s global rise

The European Commission has released a list of 10 critical technologies it aims to protect in a bid to bolster economic security amid increasing concerns over China’s global rise — many of which are areas in which European startups are innovating.

Technologies on the Commission’s list, published Tuesday, will receive special attention from policymakers, with the aim of avoiding intellectual property theft by hostile states and nurturing their development through a range of potential measures, including extra support and partnerships with like-minded allies. 

Four of the technologies on the list — advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum and some biotechnologies such as vaccines, genome sequencing and synthetic biology — are described as the most sensitive and at highest risk of know-how leakage. 


The Commission said it will ask the EU’s 27 member states to carry out risk assessments of these four areas by the end of this year and involve companies in the exercise, which could lead to curbs on exports or investments in non-EU countries such as China. The assessments will need to cover any potential chokepoints in supply chains, identify key companies in each nation and list the main threats and where they might come from.

The EU list names a second tier of technologies in the areas of cyber security, advanced sensing, space and propulsion, nuclear energy, hydrogen, renewable energies such as photovoltaics, smart grids, robotics, drones and advanced materials. 

Over the last two decades, Europe has seen the blossoming of dozens of deeptech startups and scaleups in many of these areas, developing products deemed crucial for the continent’s technology sovereignty.

EU officials compiled the list on the basis of the transformative nature of these technologies and their potential for military use or to violate human rights by “countries of concern”. The Commission’s paper will be used in the EU’s outbound investment screening tool the bloc is discussing with the US, which had already published its own catalogue.

“The EU wants to be a player, not a playground,” European Commission vice president Vĕra Jourová told a press conference in Brussels. “Our approach will allow Europe to make strategic investments in its own competitiveness and nurture our technological edge, and it will allow us to prepare for the worst-case scenarios in the future.”

The announcement comes as the EU seeks to “de-risk” its dependence on China and other countries and protect its supply chains. The document, however, does not name China. 

Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, denied the list has been drawn with China in mind, and pointed out that the EU’s list is “pretty comparable” with what the US, UK, Japan and Australia are doing. 

“Europe is adapting to the new geopolitical realities, putting an end to the era of naivety and acting as a real geopolitical power,” Breton said.

Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted based in Madrid and Barcelona. She covers Europe's tech sovereignty, deeptech and Iberia. Follow her on X and LinkedIn