European Parliament president David Sassoli dies aged 65

11 January 2022, 15:04

David Sassoli
Obit David Sassoli. Picture: PA

The Italian was first elected at the European Parliament in 2009.

The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has died at the age of 65.

Mr Sassoli, an Italian journalist who worked his way up in politics while defending the downtrodden and oppressed, died in hospital in his home country on Tuesday.

European Council president Charles Michel called him a “sincere and passionate European”, adding: We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.”

Mr Sassoli, a socialist, had been in hospital since December 26 because of abnormal functioning of his immune system, his spokesman Roberto Cuillo said.

He will be buried on Friday at Rome’s Santa Maria degli Angeli, the church where state funerals are held.

He had been struggling for months with poor health after he suffered pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria in September. His health steadily declined afterwards and he was forced to miss several important legislative meetings.

As much as possible, he stayed on the job, where his vigour and easy smile had always been a trademark. He was at his strongest when he took up the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean or dissidents such as Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is taking on the Kremlin from a jail cell.

“Everyone loved his smile and his kindness, yet he knew how to fight for what he believed in,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“Our union has lost at the same time an Italian patriot, a great European and a tireless humanist,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Over the past few months, Mr Sassoli had improved enough to preside over a European Parliament session in December to give the EU’s main human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to Mr Navalny’s daughter.

A few weeks later, his wishes for the new year showed him as an optimist with great expectations, as he said: “We can be that hope when we don’t ignore those in need. When we don’t build walls on our borders. When we fight all forms of injustice. Here’s to us, here’s to hope.”

He is survived by his wife Alessandra Vittorini and children Livia and Giulio.

Flags flew half-mast and the European Parliament opened a condolences register. The European Commission will hold a minute of silence when it meets on Wednesday.

Pope Francis, who received Mr Sassoli in an audience last year, sent an unusually heartfelt telegram of condolences to Mr Sassoli’s wife, paying tribute to him as an “animated believer of hope and charity… who, in a peaceful and respectful way, worked for the common good with a generous commitment”.

Belgium European Parliament President Sassoli
An MEP signs the condolence register (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Mr Sassoli came to lead the European legislature in 2019 following an intricate bout of political infighting among EU leaders, which also saw the German Christian Democrat Ms von der Leyen become European Commission president and the Belgian free-market liberal Mr Michel take the job as EU Council president.

Mr Sassoli and Ms von der Leyen were picked by EU leaders practically out of the blue, stunning themselves and the rest of the world.

He helped steer several of the most important political issues facing the EU to a successful conclusion — none more so than the 1.8 trillion-euro pandemic recovery fund and seven-year budget.

Yet his two and a half years in charge was affected by the pandemic, which often turned the European Parliament into a remote digital institution where his human warmth lost impact, and his own deteriorating health.

Italian premier Mario Draghi sent condolences on behalf of his government and paid tribute to Mr Sassoli as “a man of institutions, a profound pro-European, a passionate journalist, Sassoli was a symbol of balance, humanity, generosity”.

Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was set to take over from Mr Sassoli next week, said: “I am heartbroken. Europe has lost a leader, I have a lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion.”

By Press Association

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