One Charger for All... and Nobel Economics Prize for Two Bulgarians!
I was very young when the democratic changes in Bulgaria occurred in 1989-1990 but I do remember vividly two dates.
The first one was November 10, 1989, the day of the intra-party coup that brought down Bulgaria's communist dictator Todor Zhivkov after 36 years in power. That day left me with a lasting memory mostly because the imposing 5-meter statue of Vladimir Lenin vanished overnight from the center of our small town.
The second date was June 23, 1990, when a Bulgarian deputy with unorthodox looks in the Grand National Assembly elected to draft Bulgaria's new and democratic constitution declared that Bulgaria must leave the Warsaw Pact and join NATO. Clearly, back then I had no idea what the heck NATO and the Warsaw Pact were but I was really impressed how my mother, having lived all her life under the communist regime and having never supported it, was so startled to hear such a revolutionary declaration in Parliament that she couldn't wrap her head around it – it sounded so totally unfathomable and fantastic!
The deputy who made this stunning declaration was 34-year-old Solomon Passy who, by some interesting historical development, which most probably isn't a coincidence, in 2005 presided over the country's accession to NATO in his capacity of Foreign Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria. (A video in which Solomon Passy tells the story himself VIEW HERE)
It is just that Passy appears to be the kind of man who not only has ingenious, unorthodox, and brave ideas – but also sees them through.
This time he – together with his wife Gergana Passy – came up with a rather original idea affecting positively the life of billions of people on the entire planet – the introduction of common universal chargers for mobile phones. And, as in the case with Bulgaria's NATO accession and a number of other exciting "Passy" projects, not only was a revolutionary idea begotten but it has already become a reality - as the European Commission, the executive of the 500-million European Union, just presented the prototypes of the common mobile phones chargers using its weight and power of persuasion to get 14 major global producers on board with it.
???????EU commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani (R) and Bridget Cosgrave, Director-General of Digitaleurope, the largest association of European digital technology industry and show a sample of a compatible common mobile phone charger during a press conference, at the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels, 08 February 2011
Peculiarities of the Common Mobile Phone Charger
The first peculiarity was already mentioned – it was the brainchild of a Bulgarian couple – Solomon and Gergana Passy. But before going back to those two and how they got their life-altering idea, it's worth looking at why it is so great.
On February 8, 2011, EU commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani, and Bridget Cosgrave, Director-General of Digitaleurope, the largest association of European digital technology industry, presented the first prototype of the compatible common mobile phone charger during a press conference at the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels. The Bulgarian family that invented the idea – or at least a Bulgarian representative – should have been invited to this event for reasons having to do with what the EU is all about.
But it is still crucial that, having been made up as a joke around the dinner table in a Bulgarian home (see below), the common universal charger for mobile phones is now a fact for the consumers in the European Union as a result of the collaboration between fourteen global mobile phones manufacturers and the European Commission.
"Easy; gain of time; gain of space; less environmental costs," is how Emilien Gasc, a Project Coordinator at ANEC, the European consumer watchdog, summarized the benefits of the common charger proposed by the Passy family in a video report.
"Until now, if you changed mobile phones regularly, this often meant owning multiple, incompatible phone chargers. These different chargers are a pain for users and produce waste, which harms the environment. Today a single common mobile phones charger which can be used to charge different mobile phones made by different manufacturers has been made possible... In the long term introducing the common universal charger is expected to reduce electronic waste by more than 50 000 tons per year. Today there are more than a billion chargers hanging around in drawers," explains the promotional video of the EC entitled "One Charger for All" posted on YouTube.
Solomon Passy himself has emphasized that the introduction of the universal chargers in the EU will save not just millions of metric tons of WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) but also millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. These greenhouse gas and electronic waste savings will jump through the roof is the same standard is adopted all across the globe.
Interestingly, the common charges initiative has been met with very little criticism and opposition for such a significant project. It has not even alarmed proponents of free market competition, at least in Europe.
"Criticism that the standardization of electronic devices hinders competitiveness is not valid. Imagine that somebody today says that we should introduce different plugs and sockets for every electric appliance just in order to give way for competition. So we will thus have 2-cm sockets for vacuum cleaners, and then 3-cm sockets electric shavers and so on. We just never think of how much standardization has made our lives easier in order to worry – the application of this policy of standardization of electric devices can only bring benefits," explains one of the two Bulgarians who came up with the idea.
Passy has pointed out that the EU should go about applying the same principle to the standardization of chargers for photo cameras, video cameras, computers, all the way to electric shavers and toothbrushes if you wish.
"This will save the world a colossal amount of electronic waste and carbon dioxide emissions produced every year just so the producers can keep their monopolies on some charging gadgets, whose diversity is really useless. And what we have suggested will be of great benefit not only to the consumers but for the producers as well. I can cite immediately a specific example. Computers today are a thousand times cheaper than they were 30-40 years ago but that does not mean that producers of computers today make less profit than they did back then. The mass production of a certain good leads to benefits for both the producers and the consumers, and, what is more, the greatest winner is environment, which means – us all. This idea is a colossal contribution on part of Bulgaria for protection of the global environment," Solomon Passy told Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) in an interview.
Solomon Passy (left) and Gergana Passy (right) pose with EU Commissioner for Financial Planning and Budget Janusz Lewandowski together with the photo collage of the 24 Chasa daily showing Bulgaria's Solomon and Gergana Passy, the inventors of the common mobile phone charger idea, as ancient god statues holding the prototype of the common mobile phone charger. Lewandowski was in Sofia on February 11, 2011, together with Antonio Tajani and two other EU Commissioners. The collage is courtesy of 24 Chasa artist Ilian Chakrakov. Photo for Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) by Romeo Cholakov.
From a Bulgarian Dinner Table to the Global Consumer Electronics Market
The case of the common universal mobile phone charger does show that good ideas can indeed catch on quickly even if they have to deal with powerful corporations and massive bureaucracies.
International media have been quick to notice that the process to reach the prototype common charger has been relatively quick: in June 2010, the European Commission asked the world's major mobile phone producers to ensure compatibility of data-enabled mobile phones.
The idea received the backing of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in October 2009. The European Commission then handed down a mandate in December 2009 requiring the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to deliver common charger standards for data-enable mobile phones, or phones that can be connected to a computer.
In June 2010, the European Commission asked world leading mobile phone producers to ensure compatibility of data-enabled mobile phones. Only six months later, in December 2010 the new technical standards for data-enabled mobile phones were published. In February 2011, the prototype was presented in Brussels and it is only weeks before it hits the EU markets.
From now on, data-enabled mobile phones from different brands will be able to use the same charger. The fourteen manufacturers which signed the Memorandum of Understanding regarding Harmonization of a Charging Capability for Mobile Phones to introduce the new common mobile phone chargers onto the European market include Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola Mobility, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion (RIM), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL), Texas Instruments and Atmel.
But Solomon Passy disclosed for the readers of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) how the idea really was born.
"That was in the spring of 2008. Gergana and I sat down to have dinner with the kids and, discussing the long, hard day that had gone by, we found that we hadn't been able to make several important conversations among each other that day because our mobile phones ran out of batteries. We started thinking why it happens so often that people run out of batters and are unable to charge them quickly enough, and we figured out that the main reason are the all kinds of useless variations of the mobile phone chargers," he revealed.
The Passy family decided that since Bulgaria already was an EU member they needed to try to use this membership to the benefit of billions of people so they wrote a letter to the then EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Guenther Verheugen and several other Commissioners about the mobile phone chargers but also mentioning the potential for standardization with other electronic and electrical devices.
"Commissioner Verheugen responded to us very positively, he accepted our arguments, and things started to roll. After that the effort had to go through the world CSM Association (GSMA), the International Telecommunications Union of the UN, and the 14 large global producers of mobile phones, and finally, after a lot of efforts, much dealing with bureaucracy, and also lots of persistence, things did happen. I am glad that a Bulgarian engineer and inventor – Ivan Batsarov – approached me and Gergana with the idea to patent elements of this common mobile phone charger, which is what we did, and the patent is Bulgarian," Solomon Passy, who is now the President of the Atlantic Club in Bulgaria, said.
The Recognition that Bulgaria Deserves
The idea of the Passy family for the common universal mobile phone charger appears to be comparable in scope and significance to other life-altering Bulgarian inventions – the invention of the first computer by John Atanasoff, of the digital eletronic watch by Peter Petroff (Peter Petrov), and the aviation inventions made by Assen "Jerry" Jordanoff (Asen Yordanov).
However, in the recent months, the media from across the EU and senior EC officials have been extremely shy and stingy with respect to reporting that the idea for a common mobile phone charger originated in Bulgaria, with former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy (2001-2005) and his wife, Gergana Passy, a former Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister and Minister of EU Affairs in the 2005-2009 Cabinet.
With all the justified or unjustified criticism that Bulgaria has been dealing with ever since it started EU accession talks a decade ago, and all the vilification and bad publicity it gets in the European press, the French and German papers - not to mention the British tabloids, which seem to think that Bulgaria is about as evil as Al Qaeda, the global warming, and the Khmer Rouge genocide combined – have shown little integrity in giving proper credit to Bulgaria in this case. Because the modest Balkan EU newcomer does deserve to be given much credit for the idea of the Passy family.
EU Commissioner Antonio Tajani viewed with much interest the photo collage of the 24 Chasa daily that I presented to him of Bulgaria's Solomon and Gergana Passy as ancient god statues holding the prototype of the common mobile phone charger. The collage is courtesy of 24 Chasa artist Ilian Chakrakov. Photo for Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) by Romeo Cholakov.
Luckily, EU Commissioner Antonio Tajani has recognized unconditionally Bulgaria's contribution to the common charger project. In an interview for Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency), he declared that the common mobile phone charger is a Bulgarian idea that the European Commission really took to heart.
"I don't think you are right [that the EC leaves largely unnoticed the contribution of Bulgaria] since the European Commission presented several days ago in a spectacular way this Bulgarian initiative for the common chargers for mobile phones. The European Commission really took to its heart this Bulgaria initiative. 14 large companies producing mobile phones have already committed to it, and we issued a call urging the rest of the world to follow the EU. We are also now going further as we are advocating unified standards for chargers for computers, digital cameras and other devices that need such chargers," Tajani told Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) in Sofia, continuing,
"So we have always recognized and pointed out Bulgaria's efforts and contribution to this project – just as I did during the conference on electric vehicles here in Sofia. The very fact that there were four European Commissioners in Bulgaria on the same day (Friday, February 11) demonstrates how much the EC has taken to heart Bulgaria's cause."
The Italian EU Commissioner viewed with much interest and a good-natured smile the photo collage from the 24 Chasa daily (pictured left, by artist Ilian Chavrakov) that I presented to him showing Solomon and Gergana Passy as a statue of ancient mythology gods holding the prototype common mobile phone charger much the same way Tajani and Bridget Cosgrave, Director-General of Digitaleurope, did in Brussels last week.
Why is Tajani's recognition of Bulgaria's contribution to the inception and realization of the common charger idea so crucial? Nobody could probably put it better than Solomon Passy himself:
"I think this recognition is good because it is a perfect example allowing us to show that Bulgarians can come up with great ideas not only when they live abroad but also when they live and work in their home country. John Atanasoff invented the computer in the USA, Carl Djerassi created the first oral contraception pill also there. People need to realize that Bulgarians can give great ideas while they live in their home country. What is more, I don't think that the fact that Bulgaria faces criticism by the EU in many areas must lead them to underestimate us in other fields where Bulgaria really has added value and can be cited as a good example."
The current Bulgarian government – just as its predecessors – warrants a good deal of criticism for not making a good use of this invention and the ensuing recognition. Any other nation would have taken up a massive PR campaign, had it come up with such an idea; all Bulgaria has kept taking are massive blows of criticism from Brussels, as usual.
It is high time that Bulgarian authorities – regardless of whatever darned political they might belong to – commit to making Europe and the world more aware of what their country really stands for. Bulgaria is not only corruption and organized crime contrary to what the international media and politicians would have you believe. It is also not just yogurt, Stoichkov, Berbatov, and some nice resorts which cheap booze. It can also be the birthplace of ideas changing the world.
"Of course, if there is one area that we are unhappy about, it is the fact that Bulgaria as a state cannot take advantage of these inventions. I continue to believe that if our state leaders and government want to introduce Bulgaria into this big, wide-open niche, our country will be able to become EU's spokesperson on a wide range of issues related to climate change," says the former Foreign Minister of Bulgaria.
What the EU Is All About...
There is actually a lot more to the invention of the common charger story than reducing waste and pollution or beating the Bulgarian pride drum.
On top of everything else, the "Common Charger Case" (CCC) is just a perfect example of why the European Union of today is so awesome and of how it should function on a regular basis. The CCC demonstrated that a great idea with European and global impact can originate with on the family dinner table in a European home and can make it all the way to the top through the eurocracy in Brussels and a handful of global organizations to make real impact in everyday life. Of course, it helps if the family in question consists of Solomon and Gergana Passy but that is not the major point here since any EU family or single person can do the same.
It is a really beneficial thing not just for Bulgaria but also for the EU and its executive, the EC, that EU Commissioner Tajani gave Bulgaria credit for this invention – because with all the democratic deficit and diminishing trust that the EU institutions face, a "CCC", i.e. such a case in hand can really boost their credibility with respect to their connection and connectedness to the average "Joe European". Which is what the EU should be all about – its people.
"We are extremely happy to see that good ideas can be realized through and via the European Commission. This project to great extent restores people's faith in the power of the European Union," summarizes Passy as to how he and his wife reacted to the successful realization of their idea.
"The common charger – good news for consumers, good news for the environment," is the motto of the promotional clip of the EC on YouTube ("One Charger for All" – which also omits mentioning Bulgaria)".
I would add – good news for Bulgaria, good news for the average EU citizen. What the European Commission really should have done is make a big-time point of the common charger case to demonstrate that the European Union can work from the bottom up. That way it will certainly be able to generate even more great "CCC"-s or "family dinner table" ideas for the benefit of all.
Solomon (left) and Gergana Passy, the Bulgarian family of two former government ministers, who came up with the idea for a common mobile phone charger at a family dinner in the spring of 2008.
This will also encourage people like Solomon Passy and Gergana Passy who have ingenious and unorthodox ideas to pursue them. Interestingly enough, in addition to their effort on the common chargers, the Passy family deserve one more honorable mention in this article – as today is their second anniversary since they got married on February 14, Valentine's Day, 2009.
The Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences (commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics, as Wikipedia remarks) is awarded for "for outstanding contributions to the field of economics." Yet, while the brilliant research and theses that earn their authors the Nobel Economics Prize are seen as the pinnacle of the global studies of economics, for the most part those remain ages away from the everyday lives of people.
Perhaps the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences should now consider for this prize an invention that will directly make a positive impact on the life of billions of people and the protection of the global environment – such as the common charger idea of Bulgaria's Solomon and Gergana Passy.
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