The dangers of nationalism and xenophobia are nothing new. It’s time to do our bit to shape the future of Europe.

A humanist and a European: portrait of Lili Couvée-Jampoller, born 3 May 1915, died 25 October 2016 – by Neel Korteweg.

Lili, a gutsy woman with clear blue eyes, passed away last year at the fortunate age of 101. She looked barely older than 70 and danced like she was 20.

She was born amidst the devastation of the First World War and escaped the worst of the second. Lili was a humanist, a traveller and a pacifist. She wasn’t family, but might as well have been.

She was 40 – my age today – when European governments came together in 1957 to create what would later become the European Union.

From the ruins of war, Lili and her generation nurtured a spirit of hope and solidarity to rebuild society, restore accountability in politics and shape a better Europe based on social and human rights. Having helped others escape the brutality of Nazi occupation, Lili turned to literature and the arts to promote European integration.

Sixty years on, the principles of European solidarity, peace and cooperation are again being tested. As Europe has grown closer, the planet has become smaller, ravaged by greed and pollution.

Today, some feel that the best is behind us, disillusioned by the politics of fear, growing inequality and a rapidly changing world. Once again, the disenfranchised are tempted by the false promises of nationalists and xenophobes.

I too am angry at the disparities in our society. For too long, our governments and the EU have been bent on the notion that markets always grow stronger, and failed to act when Europe’s social welfare and solidarity wore thin.

Like Lili, I fear the evil of nationalism and xenophobia. But, like her, I also firmly believe that the best is still ahead of us. The future of Europe and our planet are all to play for and every one of us can make a difference.

We can each raise our voice when we see someone passing blame onto the powerless, and challenge those exploiting the anguish of the disadvantaged. We can reduce the impact of our consumption on the environment and demand access to clean, renewable energy.

Bigger changes will require us to act collectively. We must call out politicians who feed on inequality and erode our ability to respond to global challenges like climate change.

The EU doesn’t need saving, it needs shaping. Together, we must demand a just, sustainable, democratic and inclusive Europe that will stand the test of time.

This is why I will be marching in Rome on 25 March for a better Europe and to celebrate solidarity and peace.

And I know that Lili will be with me in spirit.


Saskia Richartz

Greenpeace EU deputy director


Portrait credit: Neel Korteweg