Europe: a future worth fighting for
You – our people and communities – are the heartbeat of this Europe we all hold so dear. It is you who embody our values, and you that make up the fabric of our European identity.
Below is a selection of inspiring stories about your fellow citizens, and about the crucial role they have played in contributing to our shared European vision.
Fionn Ferreira recently won third place in the 2023 Young Inventors Prize, awarded by the European Patent Office, for his novel method for removing micro-plastics from water. The 22-year-old grew up kayaking along the remote coast of Ireland, where he noticed increasing amounts of plastic washing up on the coastline. After realising that there were no existing methods for microplastic removal, Fionn took it upon himself to find a solution. Starting at 16, he built several inventions using LEGOs, bits of wood, and microcontrollers, before finally arriving at an innovative magnet-based method. Not only does his invention achieve high extraction rates, it is also environmentally safe and cost-effective, positioning him as a leading young inventor in environmental science. Fionn, who is currently working on scaling up his invention to a commercial model, explains “Together, we can combat environmental challenges no matter what age we are or our technical background”.
The recovery and resilience plan in Austria aims to enhance social resilience by creating a network of local community nurses who will offer accessible and personalised care to older individuals residing in their own homes. This will improve the well-being of older people and ensure that they can stay in their own homes for as long as possible. 115 funding agreements are in place, with provisions for 275 community nurses. The pilot programme has also allocated resources for a fleet of 94 electric cars and 37 electric bikes, enabling the nurses to cater to the needs of those residing in remote areas.
Two years ago, heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding and devastation across northwestern Europe. Wallonia, in Belgium, was one of the worst-hit regions with 39 people losing their lives. The first of these victims was Rosa, a 15-year-old girl, who was dragged into the wash, where she tragically lost her life, despite her friend Benjamin’s best efforts to save her. Following that fateful day, Benjamin became a climate and children’s rights activist, launching the #ClimateJusticeForRosa campaign, so that he could keep his promise to Rosa ‘to change the world’. Two years later, Benjamin has even been able to convince the European Parliament to declare 15 July the official day of commemoration for the victims of climate change. Still only 16, Benjamin’s determination is an inspiration, and a reminder to us all, to keep working to prevent more avoidable natural disasters and human tragedies.
Nikola Rahnev is a father of three from Bulgaria. When he learned about Russia invading Ukraine, he felt compelled to help those fleeing the war. He decided to transform a large uninhabited house in Pernik, Bulgaria, into a centre for accommodation of mothers and children from Ukraine, providing community and legal assistance as well. So far, over 300 mothers and children have lived in this house. He also created a Facebook community which collects donations to help Ukrainian refugees throughout the country. His efforts go beyond helping Ukrainians. This local hero has also planted 1 million trees in Bulgaria and is helping Bulgarians affected by the recent floods by helping reconstruct 249 houses. Nikola, together with Gorata.bg, have donated over 400 tons of food and humanitarian aid in Syria, Türkiye and Bulgaria in the last year.
Petra Bokić has made it her lifegoal to help people who need it through her creativity. For the last 13 years, she has worked as a clown doctor for the Crveni Nosovi (the Croatian branch of Red Noses), whose mission is to help people in difficult situations by bringing a bit of joy, happiness, and optimism into their lives. She regularly visits children in hospitals and older people in nursing homes across Croatia as part of her work. Crveni Nosovi is part of the EU-funded ClownNexus project, which explores how humour can be used to develop stronger social connections, and enable better communication with people living with dementia, children with autism and their caregivers.
Right in the heart of Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus, is a community garden called ‘Gardens of the Future’ which is bringing part of no man’s land back to life. Run by a grassroots organisation and with a network of 1 500 volunteers, this project is transforming an abandoned area of this historic capital and reviving people’s sense of belonging and connection. The initiative is based on three core values: building communities, embracing the circular economy, and fostering agro-entrepreneurship. For bringing the whole community together for such an inspiring project, Gardens of the Future was awarded the Public Vote of the New European Bauhaus Prize 2022.
Young people in France between the ages of 15 and 30 are being given a much needed helping hand in starting their professional lives through 1jeune1solution. This initiative, largely financed by the Recovery Plan, is helping them find jobs and apprenticeships in France, volunteering opportunities around Europe, as well as providing financial aid where necessary. Launched by the French government, it helps anyone struggling to find that first job opportunity.
In Germany, you can see the European Green Deal in action at the EU-funded eco-settlement in Friedrichsdorf, Hesse. Here, the approximately 700 residents use an ice storage facility system that supplies them with energy. The sun, air and ground all serve as sustainable energy sources that are stored and used all year round. This EU-funded storage system covers 37% of the total heating demands of the settlement, saving residents 50% in heating compared to other supply systems. With an annual saving of about 207 tonnes of CO2, this ice storage facility contributes to achieving the climate targets of the European Green Deal and the REPowerEU energy saving plans. And since the system is operated with sustainable energy, users are not dependent on fossil fuels, reducing dependence on Russian gas.
“I believe that we are equally responsible for the energy that we consume and the energy we have to save”, says Anastasia-Maria Moschovi, the head of research, development and innovation at Monolithos in Athens, Greece. Anastasia-Maria works on developing innovative technologies in hydrogen production, green energy production and storage, electric vehicles and industrial decarbonization. She is also the winner of the 2023 European Sustainable Energy award, Woman in Energy. This is an award that recognises women who lead outstanding activities that help advance clean energy transition in Europe, and support equality and equal opportunities in the energy sector. Bravo, Anastasia-Maria!
Hundreds of selfless volunteers turned up to help others in the flooded areas of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, showing a strong sense of altruism and solidarity. Among them were many young people who took days off work to help clean the affected areas and to assist those who lost their homes and businesses to return to some kind of normality. They rescued hundreds of antique books in the basement archives of the Benedictine Seminary in Forlì. Many of these books date back to the 16th century and are some of the earliest printed works, forming part of the cultural and patrimonial heritage of the region.
Reinis Poznaks has managed to mobilise and dispatch over 1 700 vehicles from Latvia to the Ukraine to support Ukraine's defenders to maintain defence capability and evacuate the wounded in Russia’s war of aggression. The #TwitterKonvojs initiative, led by Reinis Poznaks, involves the transportation of SUVs, minivans, and passenger cars to Ukraine. For his exceptional efforts he was honoured as the 2022 European of the Year in Latvia for his outstanding commitment, as well as the European Parliament's European Citizen’s Prize. Reinis truly exemplifies European values through his practical dedication and his work serves as a testament to the profound impact an individual can have when driven by determination and passion.
Teltonika is a rapidly growing EU-funded technology company from Lithuania, developing exceptional Internet of Things solutions that contribute to making people’s lives easier. They have a broad focus, from manufacturing professional network connectivity equipment such as 4G and 5G routers, to electric vehicle charging stations. Recently the company signed a technological cooperation agreement with a Taiwanese company to start a semiconductor chip industry in Lithuania. Despite its rapid growth, Teltonika is also supporting regional growth in Lithuania, by opening a new technology centre in a town of 5 500 people, attracting local workers and reskilling them to become high-tech specialists.
Haley Bugeja, a 19-year-old football prodigy, is passionate about promoting gender equality in sports and encouraging girls to play football in Malta and beyond. She began playing in the Maltese league and later moved abroad at the age of 16. She has had 18 appearances on the Malta national female football team and has scored 10 goals. Bugeja previously played for Orlando Pride in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) before signing a three-year contract with Inter Milan, an Italian Serie A Club, in July 2023.
The Dutch Youth Climate Movement gives young people a voice in the climate debate by representing more than 55 diverse youth organisations across the Netherlands. By entering into dialogue with politicians and campaigns, they work to influence climate and sustainability policy. In September 2022, the Dutch Youth Climate Movement launched the Dutch Youth Climate Agenda 3.0, an ambitious, comprehensive, and concrete sustainability vision for the Netherlands. The agenda paints a clear picture of what Dutch people want their country to look like in 2040: sustainable, equitable, and habitable. The agenda also includes a Youth Water Vision, which brings together the opinions and ideas of a large group of Dutch young people on water, as a much needed, but limited resource and what can be done to deal with water sustainably.
‘Polish cities against depression’ is an initiative to build local alliances against depression and support mental health recovery across Poland, using EU funded projects. Conferences are being organised across the country to raise awareness and bring together interested stakeholders. After a conference in Warsaw, one participant felt particularly inspired, initiating a local group of teachers and school psychologists to fight against depression among young people in their area.
Located in the centre of Portugal, Quinta da Cholda is a family-owned farm that was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Active in cereal production, forestry, and renewable energy production, Quinta da Cholda became a reference in the sector in the use of precision agriculture as well as for its concerns with biodiversity and sustainability. Engineer João Coimbra, one of the family owners, is obtaining efficiency gains in the use of resources like water, gradually “producing more with less”. Decision-making processes are digitalised and databases allow the mapping of production areas according to various characteristics. As a result, in 2022, which was a year marked by severe droughts, the land was irrigated according to the exact needs of the soil, without decreasing production levels or wasting unnecessary resources.
Irina Crocker and Silvia Stelea are twin sisters from Romania. Within a month of their father dying when they were in their early twenties, they both lost more than 80% of their eyesight, accelerating a disease they were born with. Despite having only 2% of eyesight left, they are determined that a disability should never hinder anyone's unique talents, and so both Irina and Silvia started learning new skills which would eventually lead them to new opportunities. They are now proud representatives of the Visually Impaired Community, driving positive change in the workplace and passionately advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market. They are also both members of the Romanian Paralympics Archery team and have represented Romania at the World Archery Paralympic Games. Their life experiences have been featured in an award-winning documentary that celebrates their triumph over disability and highlights how they’ve achieved independence and success.
Nazaret Mateos Álvarez manages and owns an organic mushroom production site in the north of Spain. She has developed a ground-breaking way of growing mushrooms, for which she won the award for Best Organic Farmer at the first ever EU Organic Awards in 2022. Her unique cultivation method maximises product quality, while minimising input and drastically reducing the consumption of water. Nazaret’s business, EntreSetas, which is located in Palencia, a municipality of 1 800 inhabitants, has also given a second chance to the depopulated area, employing workers from across the region.
Roman Samotný is a queer activist and owner of Tepláreň Café, a bar for the LGBTI+ community in Bratislava. Last October, two people were killed and one person injured when a gunman carried out a terrorist attack at the bar. Roman considered closing his business, but after a wave of public support, he decided to expand the project to create the initiative Ide nám o život (Our lives are at stake) and collaborated on the festival Slovenská Tepláreň (Slovak Tepláreň). These are bringing together activists and institutions, to organise public events that help make the country a more inclusive place. The European Commission Representation in Slovakia participated in the project and organised several debates with Samotný, who became a public voice advocating for LGBTI+ rights.
Kristina Modic, the head of the Slovenian Lymphoma and Leukaemia Patient Association, and Samo Zver, the head of the UKC Ljubljana Department of Haematology, won the 2021 Slovenia European Citizen's Prize for their project aiming to improve the health progress of cancer patients across Europe. They successfully raised funds to purchase cutting-edge medical equipment for cancer treatment, brought 4 000 new blood stem cell donors to the state register and initiated the first rehabilitation programme for blood cancer patients that offers free comprehensive rehabilitation. The project promoted solidarity and highlighted the importance of access to public healthcare services. It was also an important contribution to the implementation of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.
Marcus Wandt will soon be spending two weeks in the International Space Station as part of a private space mission. That is because last November the 43-year-old Swede outlasted 22 500 other applicants to become an astronaut reserve for the European Space Agency (ESA), joining the European Astronaut Corps in June of this year. "I've applied to become an astronaut because I love exploration, and I want to reach far out into the unknown," Wendt said upon his acceptance to the ESA's Astronaut Class of 2022. The new class includes members of the astronaut reserve like Marcus, career astronauts, and astronauts with physical disabilities who participate in a Parastronaut feasibility project. The Astronaut Class of 2022 started 12-month basic training at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre this spring.