ANTWERP, Belgium (Reuters) - The European chip industry should focus on bolstering its strengths as a research centre and crucial chipmaking equipment producer rather than trying to create a cutting edge chip manufacturer, the CEO of semiconductor research firm imec said.

"You can't make an advanced chip without European technology," Luc Van den Hove told reporters at the ITF World conference on Tuesday.

He noted that the world's biggest equipment maker ASML depended on German optics and imec research. Europe also houses smaller but crucial equipment companies such as ASM International.

Earlier on Tuesday Belgium-based imec announced that it would host a 2.5-billion euro (2.72 billion) pilot line for researching future generations of chips that are more advanced than the 2 nanometre which is just entering production.

But Van den Hove said that should not be seen as a prelude to any domestic European chip company or startup building its own 2-nanometre or better commercial plant such as Japanese firm Rapidus is attempting with government support.

"Whether we should build our own sub-two nanometre foundry, I have my doubts whether that makes sense to say it mildly," he said.

Rather, Europe should continue to woo construction of such plants from the global big three logic chip manufacturers, TSMC, Intel and Samsung.

Currently, only Intel has plans to build a major plant on European soil manufacturing better than 2 nanometre chips, in Magdeburg, Germany, though TSMC has plans for a less than 22 nanometre plant in Dresden - a "legacy node" or slightly older generation of technology in industry terms.

Van den Hove said that Europe needed those too.

"We have to make sure that we avoid a shortage of legacy nodes, because in China, there's a lot of capacity being built up on legacy nodes," a potential geopolitical risk, he said.

Europe also has strong legacy node chipmakers of its own, he said, naming NXP, Infineon, Bosch, and STMicroelectronics as "all leaders in their specific segment".

($1 = 0.9200 euros)

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

By Toby Sterling