Day: November 27, 2023

Wagner STILL waging secret war as mercenaries earn £8m-a-month to torture & massacre civilians for brutal Mali warlords

RUSSIA’S Wagner mercenaries are still waging a secret war earning £8million a month to reign terror for brutal warlords in Mali. 

It’s a standard play for the mercenary army that terrorises, maims and murders on behalf of the Russian state in exchange for blood gold to feed Putin’s war machine, experts told The Sun.

The Wagner Group, which for years was ruled by oligarch and warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin until he met his fiery end in August, has spent decades secretly digging their claws into Africa.

Their haunting black insignia has been seen stomping all over democracy and stirring proxy wars across Central and West Africa.

Mostly recently, the poverty-stricken and failed state of Mali has become a zombie host for the Russian state’s spiky tentacles.

And dirty business is booming.

In late 2021, the military junta who took power in a coup invited Wagner to bring in its weapons and hardened fighters to crush the Islamic State terror group.

In reality, they booted out the last of the UN peacekeeping force and France’s troops and propped up Mali’s corrupt military regime – leaving a succession of atrocities in their dusty wake.

US intelligence claims this so-called “security” costs Mali £8million per month.

The de-facto army offers a “broad portfolio” of “violence, atrocities and human rights violations,” according to Professor Salvador Sánchez Tapi, a conflict analysis expert at the University of Navarra.

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Don’t raise taxes on vape products. They help people quit smoking

Ontario plans to double the tax on vaping items. Yes, some vapers may quit. But others will go back to smoking

If you are a smoker in Ontario trying to quit — and if you are a smoker, you should be trying to quit — making the switch to lower-risk vaping products is about to get much more expensive. In his fall economic statement earlier this month, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announced the province would be partnering with the federal government to double the tax burden on vape products.

Right now a 30mL bottle of vape liquid faces a federal tax of $7. Under the new policy, that will double to $14. Those who prefer pre-filled pods will see the tax rise from $1 per unit to $2. In the partnership with Ottawa, the province gets to keep half of the tax revenue generated from the scheme.

Ontario has justified the move as an attempt to curb the prevalence of vaping, especially among young people. That’s certainly an important goal, but minors should never have access to vape products and adults who sell to them or help them get around that rule should be prosecuted.

But many adults are using vape products to quit smoking, which means making vaping more expensive could be a serious net negative for public health. Vaping with the goal of quitting smoking is a huge step in the right direction for people’s health. Public Health England estimates that accessing one’s nicotine through vaping brings a 95 per cent reduction in health risk compared to getting it from tobacco. Most of the danger of smoking come from inhaling combusted materials. Vaping all but eliminates that danger, which is why making it more expensive is a big health policy mistake.

A 2017 study from researchers at the University of California found, using U.S. census data, that vaping had indeed contributed to a significant increase in smoking cessation. Moreover, vaping outperforms other smoking cessation methods. The U.K. National Health Service website spells out that “You’re roughly twice as likely to quit smoking if you use a nicotine vape compared with other nicotine replacement products, like patches or gum.”

So why would Ontario want to make vape products more expensive for smokers, and what will be the effect of these tax hikes?

Vape prices are clearly going to rise. In a 2020 working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, six U.S. economists analyzed sales data from 35,000 U.S. retailers and found that for every one-dollar increase in taxation vape prices rose between $0.91 and $1.16. The tax is almost entirely passed on to consumers.

How will vapers respond to these price hikes? Many will go back to smoking. The same NBER study showed that a $1-increase in vape taxes increased cigarette sales by a whopping 10 per cent.

So the tax hike will make what has been shown to be an effective cessation tool more expensive, which will likely push former smokers back to smoking — even as our federal government claims to be steadfast in its commitment to have fewer than five per cent of Canadians smoke by 2035.

In 2007, 31 per cent of Canadians identified as regular smokers. By 2020, that number was down to just 11 per cent. That’s certainly good news. We all know the devastating impact smoking can have. Approximately 48,000 Canadians still die each year from tobacco-related illnesses. But while that decline in smoking is clearly something to celebrate, making it harder for those who are still smoking to quit isn’t.

If we’re to have any shot at achieving the smoke-free 2035 goal, we should see vaping as a tool that will help us get there. Heavy-handed tax hikes create more smokers, and no one wins if that happens.

Originally published here

Legal attacks on fossil fuels will only make us poorer

Nearly half of all US states have pledged to go totally carbon-free by at least 2050.

While many states and the federal government are pushing and subsidizing entrepreneurs to scale up carbon-free alternatives to fossil fuels such as nuclear energy, wind, and solar – other states are hoping to reach their goals by seemingly suing oil and gas companies into extinction.

Though American consumers have been the primary customers for fossil fuel companies, several Democratic state attorneys generals have staged elaborate lawsuits hoping to legally pin climate change on a handful of companies.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has been at the forefront, but he’s had plenty of support and funding along the way, including from key law firms across the country and the billionaire former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Though our judicial system is supposed to be immune from political agendas, these third-parties target certain industries and corporations for litigation, hoping to tip the balance in prominent cases being heard across the country.

This trend is so troubling that the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held ahearing in September to evaluate this threat. But missing from that congressional discussion about deep-pocketed, heavily coordinated movements to influence legal action was the subject of climate litigation.

In September, the largest climate change lawsuit was filed by the state of California against five major oil companies and associates, alleging public deception about climate risks associated with fossil fuels.

With an economy twice that of Russia, California becomes not just the biggest U.S. state to sue energy companies, but the largest economy to do so. California has thrown its weight around before, suing auto manufacturers over greenhouse emissions and legally banning the sale of new combustion-powered vehicles by 2035.

California’s vendetta against oil and gas may seem impractical, but the fact that 17 states followed their lead on the eventual gas-powered car ban shows that “as California goes, so goes the nation” is more than just a saying.

Nonetheless, California faces the same uphill battle as its unsuccessful auto industry lawsuit. One environmental law professor at Yale University told the Wall Street Journal, “the entire modern economy relies on the oil industry, and it could be hard to pin liability solely on companies.”

The lawsuit itself, however, will do nothing to promote climate progress. In fact, it will only add to consumer burdens, should they be successful. Gas prices are already disproportionately high in California, at 55 percent higher than the national average. But worse yet is the protracted, multi-million-dollar campaign waged by third parties to pressure energy producers and persuade the public they’ve been deceived.

Deep-pocketed private donors have persuaded organizations and attorneys to take up climate litigation, pouring millions into institutions like the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) who aggressively encourage state and local governments to sue energy producers. Allies like the Rockefeller Family Fund not only help funnel money to CCI – about $10 million, in fact – but also host legal forums and initiate climate ligation support among elected officials.

Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative James Comer raised these concerns, pointing out the chief law firm litigating climate lawsuits, Sher Edling, is essentially paid to target energy companies. Rather than implementing contingency fees, “the lawsuits are being funded, tax-free, by wealthy liberals via dark money pass-through funds.”

Beyond that, billionaire Michael Bloomberg has put legal muscle behind the movement, seeding the NYU School of Law’s Environment and Energy State Impact Center with $6 million to offer lawyers as “Special Assistant Attorneys General.” These attorneys, embedded at the state level, provide more legal horsepower to pursue climate suits.

Most recently, a congressional ethics probe was opened on Ann Carlson, unconfirmed acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), for her extreme agenda and prior partnership with Sher Edling. The members allege she was involved in coordinating the law firm’s efforts to pursue climate litigation and worked to raise money through dark money funds to support that work.

This public campaign to vilify energy producers ignores the reality that we rely on fossil fuels and need them to lead America’s energy transition, as they have for years now.

Data from 2022 shows oil and gas represented nearly 70 percent of American energy consumption, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports global consumption of liquid fuels (gasoline and diesel) will remain high for the next decade.

Despite this, these lawsuits target energy producers in hopes of shrinking the role of American oil and gas development and starving consumers of affordable energy sources, even if there are no ready replacements.

The public relations and legal war against energy producers is the wrong path for real change –  a mistake only amplified by dark money and partisan networks to encourage more climate lawsuits. It’s time we pursue common sense solutions, rather than misleading the public with disingenuous lawsuits that won’t combat climate change, and won’t make our lives any better.

Originally published here

 L’Europe cède un avantage à la Chine

Les décideurs politiques de tous bords devraient adopter une approche basée sur les risques pour la réglementation des PFAS.

La Commission européenne s’est engagée à éliminer progressivement les substances chimiques artificielles appelées substances per- et polyfluoroalkyles, également connues sous le nom de PFAS.

De l’autre côté de l’Atlantique, le Congrès américain et des législateurs au niveau des Etats individuels tentent d’atteindre des objectifs similaires par le biais du PFAS Action Act, qui attend maintenant un vote final au Sénat. Sans surprise, l’interdiction a été réclamée par les groupes écologistes, qui ont tendance à confondre danger et risque, et favorisent l’approche consistant à « tout interdire ».

Les PFAS se retrouvent, entre autres, dans les articles ménagers et autres produits de consommation, les équipements médicaux, les emballages alimentaires et les mousses anti-incendie. Leur popularité s’explique par leurs qualités uniques, telles que leur résistance chimique et leur capacité à réduire la tension superficielle. L’efficacité des PFAS a rendu leur remplacement difficile et coûteux.

Dans le même temps, l’utilisation des PFAS a été associée à divers effets néfastes, tels que l’infertilité, les maladies de la thyroïde et du foie, lorsqu’ils sont déversés de manière inappropriée dans l’approvisionnement en eau. Ces préoccupations sont justifiées et ne doivent pas être sous-estimées ou déformées. Cependant, comme pour presque tout, c’est le degré d’exposition qui compte dans une évaluation basée sur le risque, par opposition à l’évitement total du danger. Étant donné que plus de 4 700 produits chimiques appartiennent au groupe des PFAS et qu’ils présentent tous des niveaux de risque et de danger différents, nous devons veiller à ne pas les mettre tous dans le même panier.

L’Union européenne vise à diviser ces produits chimiques en deux groupes : les produits essentiels et les produits non essentiels, mais à terme, tous devraient être interdits. Cela dit, les PFAS ont déjà été en grande partie retirés de la circulation lorsqu’ils ne sont pas nécessaires. Un profil toxicologique des perfluoroalkyles publié en 2018 par l’Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry indique que « les rejets industriels ont diminué depuis que les entreprises ont commencé à éliminer progressivement la production et l’utilisation de plusieurs perfluoroalkyles au début des années 2000 ».

Rien ne garantit que l’élimination progressive des PFAS nous rendra plus sûrs. L’UE et les Etats-Unis ont tous deux interdit le bisphénol A (BPA), une substance chimique présente dans les plastiques, dans les biberons, au motif qu’il présente des risques pour la santé des enfants. Cependant, le BPS et le BPF, qui sont généralement utilisés comme substituts, se sont révélés tout sauf inoffensifs. En fait, même une faible exposition au BPS a eu un impact significatif sur le développement des embryons.

Une interdiction totale de l’utilisation des PFAS ne signifie pas nécessairement que ces substances chimiques artificielles cesseront d’être produites, mais simplement que d’autres pays, comme la Chine, augmenteront probablement leur production. Et compte tenu de la nécessité des PFAS pour les équipements médicaux et les biens de consommation, une interdiction de l’UE ou des Etats-Unis serait très problématique.

Pour les semi-conducteurs, ceci est un problème considérable. D’où les fabricants de puces européens importent-ils les PFAS, si la production européenne cesse ? Ironiquement, ils européens devraient importer la majeure partie de ce déficit de Chine, ce qui va complètement à l’encontre de l’objectif de relocalisation de la production en Europe. Cela s’est déjà produit lorsque l’usine belge de 3M a été temporairement fermée. Les principaux producteurs coréens de puces, comme Samsung et SK Hynix, ont acheté des PFAS à des fournisseurs chinois pour éviter les pénuries de production.

Certains de ces composés chimiques des PFAS sont essentiels pour les blouses et les draps résistants à la contamination, les dispositifs médicaux implantables, les endoprothèses, les patchs cardiaques, les filtres pour conteneurs stériles, les systèmes de récupération des aiguilles, les trachéotomies, les fils guides de cathéter pour la laparoscopie et les revêtements de boîtes d’inhalation. Déclarer tous ces composés chimiques dangereux, sans évaluer le risque associé à chaque utilisation, met en péril les technologies médicales qui sauvent des vies et la sécurité des patients.

Du côté des produits de consommation, comme les téléphones portables et la technologie 5G continuent de se développer et exigent des vitesses plus rapides dans des tailles plus petites, ces composés sont impliqués dans tout, de la production de semi-conducteurs à l’aide au refroidissement des centres de données pour l’informatique en nuage (cloud computing). Le retrait forcé de ces produits chimiques du processus de production, en particulier parce qu’ils présentent très peu de risques pour l’homme, perturbera considérablement les chaînes d’approvisionnement et augmentera les coûts pour les 472 millions d’Européens qui utilisent actuellement un smartphone.

Les décideurs politiques de tous bords devraient adopter une approche basée sur les risques pour la réglementation des PFAS, plutôt que de se laisser piéger par les appels des activistes écologistes à les éviter complètement. Bien que certains de ces produits chimiques doivent être interdits ou limités, les interdire tous pourrait nous laisser avec des alternatives encore pires qui pourraient avoir un impact plus important sur notre santé et notre bien-être. Ces produits chimiques nécessitent une approche réglementaire très rigide et détaillée, pas une approche « taille unique ».

Generasi penamat: Jalan ke hadapan

Baru-baru ini Codeblue melaporkan bahawa kerajaan telah membuat keputusan untuk mengeluarkan klausa generasi penamat daripada Rang Undang-undang (RUU) Kawalan Produk Merokok untuk Kesihatan Awam 2023 kerana ia tidak berpelembagaan, atau dianggap bertentangan dengan prinsip kesamarataan dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan. 

Generasi penamat merujuk kepada peruntukan larangan dalam RUU ke atas mereka yang lahir selepas 2007 daripada membeli dan menggunakan produk tembakau serta vape.

Sehingga kini belum ada sebarang kenyataan rasmi daripada Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM), namun kenyataan bekas menteri, Khairy Jamaluddin, terhadap kewujudan dua menteri dan “the gaffer” sebagai penghalang kepada RUU itu menguatkan lagi kesahihan laporan tersebut.

Keputusan tersebut sudah tentu bukan tindakan yang mudah. Kerajaan berisiko mendapat imej politik yang negatif tetapi itulah perkara yang tepat dan mesti dilakukan.

Menurut Peguam Negara Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh cadangan larangan berasaskan umur tersebut dianggap sebagai tidak berpelembagaan kerana bertentangan dengan jaminan kesaksamaan dalam Perkara 8 Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Dalam erti kata lain, sepatutnya setiap orang adalah sama rata bawah undang-undang dan berhak mendapat perlindungan yang sama. Undang-undang mesti adil untuk semua generasi dan setiap kumpulan masyarakat. 

Undang-undang tidak boleh memberikan kelebihan hanya kepada satu generasi dan mengetepikian generasi yang lain.

Semasa RUU itu pertama kali diperkenalkan pada 2022, perbincangan mengenai hak asasi atau hak kesamarataan tidak diberikan perhatian secara terperinci, atau ruang untuk membahaskan secara terbuka dan selamat tidak ada.

Apabila terdapat ahli parlimen, pakar perubatan, ahli ekonomi atau mana-mana pihak cuba menyuarakan pandangan atau mewacanakan dasar ini tersebut secara kritis, mereka dilabel dengan pelbagai gelaran yang negatif.

Bahkan terdapat ahli parlimen yang tidak berani untuk membincangkan isu berkenaan secara terbuka kerana risau mereka akan dilabel dan dimalukan di media sosial atau khayalak ramai.

Dengan mudah – dan sering kali – golongan yang menyokong generasi penamat menggunakan hujah tiada kebebasan mutlak dan mengatakan ia memudaratkan masyarakat dan alam sekitar tanpa mengambil kira hak pengguna untuk membuat pilihan.

Selain tidak berperlembangan, RUU berkenaan juga dikhuatiri tidak boleh dikuatkuasakan dengan efektif.

Presiden Persatuan Kedai Kopi Petaling Jaya Keu Kok Meng dalam perbincangan meja bulat anjuran Pusat Pilihan Pengguna mengatakan di kedai kopi, dia tidak nampak penguat kuasa datang untuk melarang orang merokok dan walaupun ada undang-undang mengenainya.

Saiz perdagangan tembakau haram Malaysia yang tertinggi di dunia juga menjadi kerisauan sama ada dasar berkenaan boleh dilaksanakan atau tidak. 

Pada Mei 2023, rokok yang diniagakan secara haram merupakan 55.3 peratus daripada pasaran domestik.

Semasa Covid-19, sekitar Mac 2020 Afrika Selatan mengenakan larangan ke atas penjualan produk tembakau selama lima bulan walaupun terdapat kelaziman perdagangan haram dalam pasaran tembakau. 

Kesan daripada itu dalam tinjauan bertajuk Market impact of the COVID-19 national cigarette sales ban in South Africa menunjukkan 93 peratus daripada perokok masih berjaya membeli rokok. 

Purata harga rokok pula melonjak sebanyak 250 peratus berbanding sebelumnya kerana peningkatan dalam pembelian melalui pasaran gelap.

Kurangkan jumlah perokok

Meskipun keputusan berani kerajaan menarik semula generasi penamat wajar diiktiraf, sehingga kini masih belum ada undang-undang yang mengawal selia vape secara sah dan jelas. 

Terutamanya bagi memastikan keselamatan pengguna dan mengelakkan salah faham atau mitos mengenai produk pengurangan kemudaratan berkenaan.

Kerajaan perlu segera memperkenalkan undang-undang pintar untuk mengawal selia vape bagi memastikan keselamatan pengguna dapat terjamin dan kanak-kanak bawah umur dilindungi. 

Ketiadaan undang-undang seumpama itu mendedahkan pengguna kepada risiko produk yang tidak memenuhi peraturan kesihatan di pasaran.

Ketiadaannya juga menyebabkan orang ramai tidak mendapat maklumat tepat mengenai vape yang 95 peratus lebih selamat berbanding rokok dan mampu menjadi alternatif terpenting untuk mengurangkan perokok secara berkesan di Malaysia.

Public Health England menganggarkan vape adalah 95 peratus kurang berbahaya kepada kesihatan pengguna berbanding rokok biasa. 

Salah satu kajian penyelidikan terkini daripada Institut Psikiatri, Psikologi & Neurosains (IoPPN) di King’s College London, pengambilan vape boleh membawa pengurangan ketara dalam pendedahan kepada toksin yang menggalakkan kanser, penyakit paru-paru dan penyakit kardiovaskular.

Ini adalah masa terbaik untuk kerajaan menamatkan mitos mengenai vape dan mengiktiraf pengurangan bahaya tembakau sebagai strategi utama untuk mengurangkan perokok di Malaysia.

Originally published here

Nikki Haley’s lack of faith in free speech is disturbing

Social media is without a doubt less popular in the public imagination than it was when the global experiment began around 2004. While online forums and communities had existed before, the world would never be the same once Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Myspace all emerged over roughly a three-year span. Initially revered as a democratizing force for free expression and liberal values, the social media industry enjoyed a honeymoon period that is decidedly over.

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley reminded us of this fact on Fox News Tuesday, when she ripped into anonymous online speech as the apparent cause of America’s uncivil politics. Haley proposed forcing social media companies to share their algorithms and require the verification of every user as a top priority of her future administration.

Understandably, many Americans are disenchanted with online life, but Haley’s remedy is a trap.

Online anons make life a little harder, for sure. Anonymous users come in droves, pollute comment sections, and tilt the balance of discourse in favor of those who hide behind what is essentially a modern pen name.

While those of us who travel online using our real names are bound by certain unspoken codes of conduct and concern with reputation, anonymous accounts with monikers like Comfortably Smug, the Critical Drinker, Shoe0nhead, Zerohedge, Doomcock, pakalupapitow, and pourmecoffee produce content and commentary with a little more flexibility. Some online denizens go to great lengths to remain anonymous; others operate barely in the shadows and can be found by any half-skilled sleuth. This is particularly pronounced within the cryptocurrency space.

The reasons for remaining anonymous can be malicious or driven by common sense. Rolling Stone reported on HBO executives who delegated the creation of anonymous accounts to attack TV critics. U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) at first operated @BasedMikeLee on X (formerly Twitter) as almost a parody account while still revealing what he truly thought about issues of the day. 

The fact is that anonymous publishing in America is as old as America itself. Benjamin Franklin wrote his pre-revolutionary pamphlets under the name Silence Dogood. “You know who were anonymous writers back in the day?” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis posted on X. “Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison when they wrote the Federalist Papers. They were not ‘national security threats.’”

Like Nikki Haley, Canadian psychiatrist Jordan Peterson is not amused by online anons. But when he polled his audience on the proposition: “By failing to separate the anonymous cowardly troll demons from real people in the comments section @youtube and other SM (social media) platforms are enabling sadistic Machiavellian psychopaths and narcissists,” 60% of 158,596 respondents disagreed.

Would it have been more truthful and democratic if, to vote in Peterson’s poll, users had to first enter their names and home addresses into a government-mandated form? Taken to its logical conclusion, that’s what the Haleys of the world are arguing: Free speech demands public accountability. Those speaking without identifying themselves are troublemakers, social deviants, and, in Haley’s words, “a national security threat.”

Maybe forcing accountability would make public discourse more orderly and civil, but you’d certainly have less of it overall. Orderly societies are not necessarily free societies. China, for example, can credit the eerie silence in the public square to social pressure and the threat of government persecution if citizens say the wrong thing.

“Don’t allow the anonymous troll-demons to post with the real verified people,” Peterson tweeted at Elon Musk, “Put them in their own hell, along with others like them.”

It’s strange to see people like Peterson, who has experienced real-world censure and cancel culture firsthand, embrace content moderation solutions that their censors would love to see imposed in the name of “national security.”

Imagine how many more bank accounts Canada might have frozen during the 2022 trucker protests if the country had a Nikki Haley-style policy banning anonymous speech online. Solidarity with the truckers would have been far more perilous for everyday people.

Scoping out an online creator’s true identity tends to have one purpose, which is to shut them up. The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz clearly had such an aim in mind when she doxxed Libs of TikTok, as the account’s growing reach and influence became a concern to top Democrats and progressive activists.

For consumers and citizens online, there is another way that doesn’t involve the Department of Homeland Security under President Nikki Haley handing down rules of the road to Twitter executives. It’s called “discernment.” 

For the online armies of anonymous goblins with zero to 100 followers, quite possibly under the dominion of Russian or Chinese troll farms, individuals and organizations must adopt a policy of courage and confidence. Treat accounts with goofy fake names and bald eagles for profile pictures with the dismissal they (largely) deserve. They exist to cast shadows of monsters on the wall, when in fact you’re dealing with trolls stacked inside a trench coat. 

Second, punish platforms that don’t meet your standards for reducing engagement by bots by spending time online elsewhere. X has a lot of them these days, and it’s a problem. New platforms will step up with a better model for discourse. Be patient, and trust entrepreneurs to solve problems that consumers want solved.

Haley is not alone in being tired of bots and anonymous jerks showing their rears online, but the moment the government and social media platforms coordinate on identity verification online, free speech in the 21st century will be effectively dead.

Originally published here

EU’s Digital Decade: Europe’s big ideas mean nothing if they are poorly executed

The EU’s ‘Digital Decade’ faces challenges, including public sector delays, market overheating, and an additional price tag of at least €250 billion, which may hinder reform success across Europe. A more realistic and critical approach is needed, writes Eglė Markevičiūtė.

Eglė Markevičiūtė is the head of Digital & Innovation Policy for the Consumer Choice Center and the former Vice-Minister of Economy and Innovation of Lithuania.

The European Union is setting its sights on the future, one “five-year plan” at a time. Adopted in 2022, the EU’s “2030 Digital Compass: the European Way for the Digital Decade” has ignited discourse about Europe’s digital future and how to plan while not smothering technological innovation in the short term.

The European Commission has pledged a substantial commitment of over €165 billion toward these goals, but the European experience shows that money can’t buy a well-coordinated plan. The success of the Digital Decade hinges on unprecedented levels of coordination and reform at all levels between EU institutions and the Member States. Getting this right will prove to be anything but simple.

Member states had until October 2023 to craft businesses’ use of artificial intelligence strategic roadmaps for implementing the Commission’s plan, but most were already late. Hopes of a ten-year plan will likely be compressed into nearly half that, if not less.

The Commission states that the success of the Digital Decade relies on relevant political reforms, improvements in business environments, new financial incentives, and increased investments in digital technologies and infrastructure. From all estimates, that means at least an additional €250 billion to come close to these goals.

Key to all of this will be political reforms, which are far from easy. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is a good illustration, with nearly twenty per cent of the €723 million allocated to digital reforms. Some countries, particularly smaller ones, are grappling with an overheated market response, where IT vendors are struggling to keep pace with the change. The current state of the EU’s single market regarding public procurement and complex procurement processes within member states prevents smooth cross-border business participation. This is all putting reform efforts at risk.

In the realm of compliance and public sector capacity, the Commission is aiming to implement a complicated set of regulations, including the Digital Services Act, Digital Markets Act, e-Privacy regulation, Artificial Intelligence Act, Data Governance Act, Data Act, Cybersecurity Act, the updated E-identity regulation (eIDAS 2), the updated Network and Information Security Directive (NIS2) and more. As exhaustive as this list may be for innovators and entrepreneurs, it also requires a significant expansion of public sector capacity, which some countries, especially the ones with smaller bureaucracies, have already been silently criticising.

One crucial point set in these plans is the EU’s digital sovereignty principle, including the need to foster EU-based business and apply digital sovereignty measures to high-risk suppliers for critical assets. The exclusion of technology from countries that pose a national security threat to the EU is long overdue. The experience of similar reforms in some member states demonstrates, however, that the exclusion process is problematic, given the global makeup of the ICT market. European alternatives like cloud computing are still minimal, and transitioning from existing solutions would impose financial, regulatory, and architectural burdens on EU countries.

As the plan suggests, doubling the number of European unicorns is daunting. The EU trails other economic areas significantly with just 249 unicorns in early 2023, while the US boasts 1,444 and China has 330. Baltic startups, in particular, face hurdles in complying with new EU regulations. Coupled with varying regulations across member states, this conspires to deter Eastern European and Baltic startups from pursuing opportunities and scaling within the bloc. Scaling tech startups relies heavily on access to talent, and while the European Commission wants to compete with Silicon Valley for talent, attracting digital talent from the Global South and other regions remains important and should be essential in addressing the continuous European brain drain to the United States.

The Digital Decade sets a high bar for innovation in quantum computing, AI, semiconductors, blockchain, and more. However, achieving technological breakthroughs means not just political support and financial incentives but also a profound shift in the mindset of European science institutions. Translating European academic excellence into commercialised, marketable products and services remains challenging. The European innovation ecosystem, designed to support the entire innovation lifecycle, is often characterised by fragmentation, politicisation, and a lack of accountability. Therefore, a heightened focus on education and science reforms is crucial for the Digital Decade’s ultimate success.

The EU’s Digital Decade is an ambitious vision for Europe’s future, with important targets in digital skills, business, infrastructure, and public e-services. Planning big and being ambitious has benefits, but given Europe’s grim experience in designing big, allocating substantial finances, yet overestimating bureaucratic and technological capacity and not reaching the desired goals should teach Europe to be more realistic and critical. Only critical, practical and transparent evaluation of member states’ capacity and individual aspirations would help avoid the usual outcomes.

Originally published here

Réaffirmer la neutralité suisse: le cas de l’énergie

À l’étranger, on caricature souvent la Suisse par sa seule neutralité. Cette description devrait nous interroger, car elle reflète sans doute plus qu’une simple philosophie de relations internationales.

Cette neutralité transparaît dans notre relation à la politique. La population suisse voit ses hommes politiques comme les garants d’un cadre général et non comme des sauveurs qui permettront de réorienter la nation dans la bonne direction. Vue de l’extérieur, la politique suisse est moins conflictuelle, plus tournée vers la discussion et la recherche de solutions. 

Toutefois, il y a des sujets qui semblent échapper à ce principe. C’est notamment le cas de la politique énergétique, qui est devenue un sujet passionnel. Il y a des pro et des antinucléaires, des pro et des antisolaires, sans parler des éoliennes, qui détruisent le paysage ou sauvent la planète. Choisis ton camp, camarade!

La neutralité énergétique devrait être la solution que nous devrions défendre collectivement au niveau politique. Ce principe repose sur la flexibilité et l’acceptation des différentes solutions possibles, afin de maintenir un approvisionnement en énergie fiable et durable tout en préservant l’environnement. La diversification des sources d’énergie est capitale pour garantir notre prospérité.

Cependant, ces dernières années, la politique énergétique suisse a pris un tournant controversé avec la mise en œuvre de la politique énergétique 2050, qui est en rupture avec l’histoire de notre pays.

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Consumer groups celebrate Malaysia follows in the footsteps of New Zealand scraps generational ban

KUALA LUMPUR, 24th November 2023 – The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) has applauded the recent cabinet decision by the Malaysian government to overturn the planned generational endgame. This important step, as mentioned by the Attorney General that it is against the principle of equality of law in the Federal Constitution, is seen as a victory for choice and intelligent policymaking.

Representative of the Malaysian Consumer Choice Center, Tarmizi Anuwar hailed the decision as a step towards recognising the importance of individual freedom and the potential negative consequences of a generational ban on smoking. Tarmizi stated, “We commend the government’s commitment to choice and sensible policy. Banning an entire generation from accessing legal products is not only paternalistic but can lead to unintended consequences such as illicit trade and exposing consumers to unregulated product risks.”

This decision is in line with recent developments in New Zealand, where plans for a generation ban are also to be abandoned by the new government. Tarmizi commented, “The global trend is shifting towards recognizing that individuals should have the autonomy to make choices for themselves. Malaysia should uphold this decision and continue to consistently move towards policies that empower consumers rather than restrict them.”

In addition, Tarmizi emphasized that the government needs to immediately regulate vaping to ensure the safety of consumers and avoid misunderstandings or myths about this harm reduction product.

“The government needs to immediately introduce smart laws to regulate vaping to ensure the safety of users can be guaranteed and minors protected. The absence of this law exposes consumers to the risk of products that do not meet health regulations on the market.”

“This absence also causes the public to not get accurate information about vaping which is 95 percent safer than cigarettes and able to be the most important alternative to effectively reduce smokers in Malaysia.”

Previously, Malaysia often referred to New Zealand as an example country to implement the generational endgame, but today New Zealand itself has decided to scrap the law. Hence, the Consumer Choice Center encourages the Malaysian government to consider evidence-based and consumer-centric policies that respect individual freedoms and evidence.

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