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EU plans ‘comprehensive reform’ of electricity market

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveils plans to deal with the energy crisis, including a cap on electricity producers' profits
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The EU plans a “deep and comprehensive” reform of the electricity market to cope with an energy crisis sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.

The measures include a cap on electricity producers’ profits that would raise 140 billion euros ($140 billion) and “cushion” consumers from high prices, she said in her annual State of the European Union address.

Other steps involve rationing energy, temporary state aid and decoupling the prices of gas and electricity.

She also announced the creation of a new bank designed to spur investment of up to three billion euros in hydrogen as a Green alternative to fossil fuels.

The measures were in response to soaring energy costs as Europe painfully unhitches its decades-long dependency on Russian fossil fuels.

Sanctions on Russia and retaliation by Moscow by cutting off gas supplies have sent prices skyrocketing, leaving Europe to confront a difficult coming winter.

“Russia keeps on actively manipulating our energy market. They prefer to flare the gas than to deliver it,” von der Leyen said.

“This market is not functioning any more.”

– Gas reserves –

To partly prepare for a tough winter, the bloc has hastily stockpiled gas reserves, hitting 84 percent of capacity well ahead of an October deadline, von der Leyen said.

But the hole left by missing Russian supplies will still hurt.

The idea to tax profits by non-gas electricity providers is to divert the money to households and businesses to weather the situation.

“These companies are making revenues they never accounted for, they never even dreamt of,” von der Leyen said.

“In these times it is wrong to receive extraordinary record profits benefiting from war and on the back of consumers,” she said.

She said “major oil, gas and coal companies” would also “have to give a crisis contribution”.

At the same time, von der Leyen highlighted that the EU is pivoting to “reliable suppliers”, naming the United States, Norway and Algeria among them.

Longer-term, the EU wants greater reliance on renewable energies, von der Leyen said, hammering a key promise of her mandate. The hydrogen investment bank proposal is another step towards that future.

– Kyiv trip –

Another announcement made by von der Leyen was planned legislation to secure critical raw materials for the EU as it shifts towards greater use of electric vehicles and other more environmentally friendly technologies.

In her speech, she highlighted the stranglehold China has over resources such as lithium that are key to the energy transition.

“Today, China controls the global processing industry. Almost 90 percent of rare earths and 60 percent of lithium are processed in China,” she said in her annual State of the European Union address.

The proposed law would identify “strategic projects all along the supply chain” and “build up strategic reserves where supply is at risk,” she said.

As for Russia, the EU chief signalled that the bloc would maintain its sanctions pressure on Russia as long as it waged its war in Ukraine.

“I want to make it very clear, the sanctions are here to stay. This is the time for us to show resolve, not appeasement,” she said.

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska attended the gathering in Strasbourg, receiving a standing ovation from lawmakers.

Von der Leyen told MEPs that she would travel to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, her third trip to the Ukrainian capital since the war started.

“I will travel to Kiev today to meet President Zelensky” to discuss “in detail” the continuation of European aid, she said in her major annual political address.

“For the first time in its history, this Parliament is debating the state of our Union while war is raging on European soil,” said von der Leyen, dressed in Ukrainian colours.

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UK eyes big TikTok fine over child privacy lapse

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A UK regulator said TikTok ay have processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent
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Britain on Monday warned it could fine TikTok £27 million ($29 million) over a potential failure to protect children’s privacy on the Chinese-owned video app.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said the social media company “may have processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent”.

The ICO also found that the short-form video platform may have “failed to provide proper information to its users in a concise, transparent and easily understood way”.

The watchdog has served the group with a notice of intent — which is a legal document that precedes a possible fine — over the possible breach of UK data protection law.

“We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with proper data privacy protections,” said Information Commissioner John Edwards.

“Companies providing digital services have a legal duty to put those protections in place, but our provisional view is that TikTok fell short of meeting that requirement.”

In response, TikTok said it disagreed with the ICO’s provisional views and stressed that no final conclusions had been reached.

“While we respect the ICO’s role in safeguarding privacy in the UK, we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course,” TikTok said in a statement.

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Apple to make iPhone 14 in India in shift away from China

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The Apple logo at a store in New York
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Apple will manufacture its new flagship smartphone in India, the US tech giant said Monday, as it seeks to diversify production away from a dependence on China.

The iPhone supply chain is based mainly in China but the country’s zero-Covid policies and tensions with the United States have hurt production, analysts say.

“We’re excited to be manufacturing iPhone 14 in India,” Apple said in a brief statement.

The California-based firm already makes older iPhone models in India via Taiwanese manufacturers such as Foxconn, which has a factory in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The latest announcement comes just weeks after Apple launched new smartphones. The tech behemoth is commencing production of the iPhone 14 in India much earlier than it did for previous models, Canalys analyst Sanyam Chaurasia said.

“Over the last couple of years, it has been increasingly diversifying its supply chain to India,” Chaurasia told AFP.

About 7.5 million iPhones — around three percent of Apple’s global production — were made in India last year, the analyst added.

“We expect that the local production of iPhones could reach more than 11 million this year,” he said.

Apple’s announcement will be a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” strategy under which he has urged foreign businesses to manufacture goods in the South Asian nation.

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US charges Boeing with misleading investors on 737 MAX safety, fined $200 mn

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US regulators say Boeing and its former CEO 'put profits over people,' misleading the public about the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft
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US securities officials fined Boeing $200 million over the aviation giant’s misleading assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX airplane following two deadly crashes, regulators announced Thursday.

Boeing agreed to the penalty to settle charges it “negligently violated the antifraud provisions” of US securities laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement, saying the company and its leader “put profits over people.”

Boeing’s former chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, also agreed to pay $1 million to settle the same charges in the civil case.

The settlement marks the latest hit to Boeing over the MAX following the Lion Air Crash in Indonesia in October 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia in March 2019, which together claimed nearly 350 lives. 

One month after the first crash, a Boeing press release approved by Muilenburg “selectively highlighted certain facts,” implying pilot error and poor aircraft maintenance contributed to the crash.

The press release also attested to the aircraft’s safety, not disclosing that Boeing knew a key flight handling system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), posed safety issues and was being redesigned.

After the second crash, Boeing and Muilenburg assured the public that there was “no surprise or gap” in the federal certification of the MAX despite being aware of contrary information, the SEC said.

– Boeing ‘failed’ –

“In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a press release. 

“The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX, despite knowing about serious safety concerns.”

The SEC said both Boeing and Muilenburg, in agreeing to pay the penalties, did not admit or deny the agency’s findings.

Boeing said the agreement “fully resolves” the SEC’s inquiry and is part of the company’s “broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 MAX accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders,” a company spokesman said.

“We will never forget those lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and we have made broad and deep changes across our company in response to those accidents.”

US air safety authorities cleared Boeing’s 737 MAX to resume service in November 2020 following a 20-month grounding after the crashes.

A principal cause of the two crashes was identified as the MCAS, which was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended but instead forced the nose of the plane downward. The Federal Aviation Administration required Boeing to upgrade this system to address the flaw.

In January 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle a US criminal charge over claims the company defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX.

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