BRUSSELS – David Sassoli, an Italian journalist who worked his way up in politics while defending the oppressed and downtrodden to become President of the European Parliament, died Tuesday at the age of 65 in an Italian hospital.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called Sassoli a “sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile. “
Sassoli, a socialist, was taken to the hospital since December 26th due to a malfunction of his immune system, said his spokesman Roberto Cuillo. Sassoli will be buried on Friday in Rome’s Santa Maria degli Angeli, the church where state funerals are held.
Sassoli struggled with poor health for months after suffering pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria in September. After that, his health deteriorated steadily and he had to miss several important legislative sessions. But as best he could, he stuck to his job, where his drive and easy smile had always been a trademark. He was strongest when he campaigned for migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean or dissidents like the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who competed against the Kremlin from a prison cell.
“Everyone loved his smile and his friendliness, but he knew how he fought for his convictions,” says EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, remembering how Sassoli traveled to Germany over three decades ago to see the notorious Berlin Wall fall to see.
European unity was his yardstick, as was justice among all Europeans.
“Our union has lost an Italian patriot, a great European and a tireless humanist at the same time,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.
In recent months he has improved so much that he will chair a session of the European Parliament in December to award Navalny’s daughter the EU’s most important human rights award, the Sakharov Prize. High in symbolism, it showed him at his best. A few weeks later, his wishes for the new year showed him to be an optimist with great expectations.
“We can be that hope if we don’t ignore those in need. If we don’t build walls on our borders. When we fight all forms of injustice. On us, on hope, ”he said in the address.
He leaves behind his wife Alessandra Vittorini and his children Livia and Giulio. Flags waved half a staff and the European Parliament opened a register of condolences. The European Commission will observe a minute’s silence at its meeting on Wednesday.
Pope Francis, who had received Sassoli in an audience last year, sent Sassoli’s wife an unusually cordial condolence telegram, praising him as a “soulful believer of hope and charity … the common good with generous commitment.”
A lifelong fan of the Fiorentina football club, he mimicked the refined style of the team in which Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Baggio were successful. But in the end, like the club from Florence, he never got to the very highest level. Being President of the European Parliament is not like being a Prime Minister or running the European Commission or the Council.
Sassoli took over the leadership of the European legislature in 2019 after a complicated political power struggle between the EU leaders, in which the German Christian Democrat von der Leyen also assumed the position of President of the European Commission and the Belgian liberal Michel. Sassoli and von der Leyen were picked out of the blue by EU leaders practically out of the blue and stunned themselves and the rest of the world.
Even though he was often overshadowed by von der Leyen and Michel, Sassoli headed an institution that has become more and more powerful over the years and in many areas, be it the digital economy, the climate or Brexit.
A nifty political shaker who, with his bonhomie, helped to the limit in bringing several of the most important political problems facing the EU to a successful conclusion – and no more than the € 1.8 trillion Pandemic Recovery Fund and that Seven year budget.
However, his two and a half year tenure was hit by both the pandemic, which often turned the European Parliament into a remote digital institution, where its human warmth was losing its impact, and its own deteriorating health.
Its peak reached the European stage, but it was just as respected in its native Italy.
The Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed his condolences to the Italian government and praised Sassoli as “a man of the institutions, a profound pro-European, a passionate journalist. Sassoli was a symbol of balance, humanity and generosity ”.
Sassoli’s Democratic Party leader and longtime friend, Enrico Letta, praised Sassoli’s European passion and vision and vowed to carry it on, even though “we know we are not up to it”.
Sassoli was first elected to the European Parliament in 2009. In 2014 he won another term and was its vice-president. He started out as a newspaper journalist before joining radio in Italy as a top-class presenter. It was a stepping stone for his political career.
He had considered running for the second part of the five-year term beginning next week, but chose not to run for re-election if the legislature elected their new president in Strasbourg, France.
Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was supposed to replace Sassoli next week, said: “I am heartbroken. Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a master. ”She said Sassoli“ dedicated his life to making the world a better and more just place ”.