Marc Hijink © IO
Author profile picture

For three years, NRC journalist Marc Hijink was allowed to walk around inside ASML. Almost all doors opened for him, and everyone made time for a conversation. The result is “Focus” (soon to be translated into English), a thorough book about the company that, in 2023, both occupies local minds and determines world politics. Reason enough to devote a theme evening to it at Van Piere bookstore.

  • Journalist Marc Hijink wrote Focus, a book in which he portrays ASML.
  • Bookstore Van Piere organized a debate evening on the occasion of the publication.
  • The debate focused mainly on ASML’s position as a plaything between the U.S. and China.

In the audience and in the panel, there were plenty of company representatives, but – as was implied from both sides – we should not interpret that as a sign that ASML and Hijink were accomplishing the project in symbiosis. “I spared no one and was able to work in complete freedom,” Hijink assured. “There are certain paragraphs in there that they are not at all happy with in the board room,” the ASMLers said.

Monumental status

The fact remains that Hijink has written a wonderful portrait full of intriguing angles about a company that is more than worthy of such an approach. Another fact is that ASML – even though no one within that company will want to admit this openly – should be very happy with the result. Even more so, when the English translation is on sale, Hijink’s book will be proof of the monumental status of this until recently relatively unknown player in the semiconductor market. And via ASML, a few other stakeholders are on Hijink’s bandwagon: Brainport Eindhoven as the place where all this could happen after all, the European high-tech industry that can flourish in part thanks to ASML, and especially the readers of this book, who can now understand even better the local and international importance of the chip industry with ASML as the global facilitator.

On Wednesday evening, Hijink presented his book to a local Eindhoven audience. During his introduction, he revealed how he traveled halfway around the world to gather all the information he needed. Most of his time, he did his research in the Netherlands and Germany, but also regularly in the U.S. and Asia. Everywhere he was welcomed with open arms, whether at the White House or TSMC in Hsinchu. “I kept thinking it was because of me, but I soon discovered that ASML is an even bigger name than I could have imagined. That realization is only now starting to sink in a bit here in the Netherlands, but in China and the U.S., they had already realized that for a long time.”

The remarkable thing about this, Hijink says: “ASML is, on the one hand, a kind of utility, providing technology that must be available always and everywhere. To perform the energy transition, to make healthcare better, you name it. And on the other hand, according to Americans, they facilitate a product that is no less than a weapon. And therefore declared it a forbidden good for the Chinese.”

Clara van de Wiel, Paul van Nunen, Joris Teer,  Lucas van Grinsven, Sanne van der Lugt, Marc Hijink.
Clara van de Wiel, Paul van Nunen, Joris Teer,  Lucas van Grinsven, Sanne van der Lugt, Marc Hijink. © IO

Weak Europe

Those Chinese are also the subject of plenty of discussion during the ensuing debate, in which Hijink gives the floor EU correspondent Clara van de Wiel, Brainport director Paul van Nunen, HCSS strategic analyst Joris Teer, China researcher and Volt Chamber candidate Sanne van der Lugt, and ASML’s VP society & community Lucas van Grinsven. After briefly exchanging words about ASML’s local impact, Van der Lugt, Teer, and Van de Wiel put the spotlight on Europe’s weakness – with ASML as a global plaything.

There had already been an export ban – formally imposed by the Netherlands – on EUV machines to China since 2018, after which the Dutch also relatively quickly agreed to a DUV ban, allowing for both most powerful machines to be put directly on the American blacklist. “If that wasn’t enough, the Americans are now blocking even more trade with China,” says Teer. Which is not a surprise, he adds. “You could see it coming. America has already shown under Trump that if they really want something, they will enforce it. Both with small allies and with larger ones. Actually, with the entire European Union.”

Washington has us in a stranglehold, according to Teer, because Europe cannot sustain itself militarily without American help. “Hundreds of thousands of boys and girls from Idaho provide our active deterrence toward Russia. It is sometimes said that Europe has not paid its premium for its geopolitical insurance to the Americans. But in fact, ASML has now become that premium; this is how we pay the Americans for their military power. We may like that or not; the Americans can simply enforce it.”

Europe has two major security challenges, he says. “First, we have to deter Russia in a credible way, and second, we have to run our vital industries even if something goes badly wrong in Asia, for example around Taiwan. For both these things, America is essential to us for the next 10 to 15 years.”


Van der Lugt still sees a way out. “For some time, we wanted to lift the political discussion to a European level because that would allow us to be much stronger than as a small country alone. That didn’t work because the security of a country is a national mandate; Europe is not entitled to decide upon those issues. That situation has changed recently because the U.S. has introduced unilateral measures that hinder our trade. And trade, that is a European issue, for which we have an instrument: the anti-coercion instrument we adopted in 2018 when Trump came up with his export duties on steel.”

As nice as it sounds, Brussels is not ready for that yet, says Van de Wiel. The anti-coercion instrument is there, but it has never been used, and both the Commission and Parliament still need some time to get their minds ready for it, she says. The same goes for the national level: a parliamentary motion by Volt, asking the Dutch government to push for anti-coercion action in Brussels, didn’t receive the necessary backing in the Second Chamber.

Teer has another option, also based on ASML’s dominance: “The Americans cannot stop us from supplying the latest machine that ASML is now building to TSMC instead of the – American – Intel.” In other words, with a bit of coordination between the big high-tech manufacturing companies and governments, an effective European industrial policy could emerge. “We regularly throw these kinds of exciting little plans on the plate of officials in the ministries and in the industry – who knows, maybe they will pick it up at some point.”