European Parliament President David Sassoli dies at 65

BRUSSELS — Italian journalist David Sassoli, who died in an Italian hospital early on Tuesday, made his way politically high while defending the downtrodden and being suppressed as president of the European Parliament. He is 65 years old.

European Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli “a sincere and warm European. We have missed his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.”

Sassoli spokesman Roberto Cuillo did not provide any details in a tweet.

In a statement issued the day before Sassoli’s death, Cullo said the socialist Sassoli had been hospitalized with an abnormal immune system since Dec. 26.

“Everyone loved his smile and kindness, but he knew how to fight for what he believed in,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recalled how the much younger Sassori traveled to Germany to witness the infamous The fall of the Berlin Wall. Thirty years ago.

European unity is his benchmark, as is justice among all Europeans.

In the past few months, he has progressed enough to preside over a meeting of the European Parliament in December to award the Sakharov Prize, the EU’s main human rights award, to Navalny’s daughter. The symbolism is high and it shows him at his best. A few weeks later, his New Year’s wishes became his political will as an anticipatory optimist.

“We can be that hope when we don’t ignore those in need. When we don’t build walls on borders. When we fight injustice in every form. This is for us, this is for hopefully,” he said in his speech.

“In the last week of December, his condition worsened, and then the last days of his fight,” Cullo told Italy’s Sky TG24.

He is survived by his wife Alessandra Vittorini and his children Livia and Giulio. Flags were flown at half-staff in mourning, and the European Parliament opened a register of condolences. The European Commission will observe a minute’s silence when it meets on Wednesday.

A lifelong fan of Fiorentina FC, he followed the fine lines of the teams of Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Baggio. But in the end, like the Fiorentina club, he also lacked the finishing touches to reach the highest level. Being president of the European Parliament is nothing compared to being prime minister or leading the European Commission or Council.

Sassori began to lead the European legislature in 2019 after a tangled political infighting among EU leaders, with German Christian Democrat von der Leyen also becoming European Commission president and Belgian free-market liberal Michel taking over as EU councillor The position of chairman. Sassoli and von der Leyen were chosen almost suddenly by EU leaders, much to their own and the rest of the world’s shock.

Although Sassoli is often overshadowed by von der Leyen and Michel, the institutions led by Sassoli have grown stronger over the years and have been instrumental in shaping the process in many areas of the EU, be it the digital economy , climate or Brexit.

A skilled political swingman, he has used his goodwill to help steer some of the most important political issues facing the EU to a successful conclusion – most importantly the €1.8 trillion pandemic recovery fund and seven-year budget.

The European Parliament represents the EU’s 450 million citizens and calls itself the “heart of European democracy”. It has more than 700 members directly elected by its member countries.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of a great European and a proud Italian,” von der Leyense said. “David Sassoli was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding European Parliament president and, above all, a dear friend.”

He is equally respected in Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered his condolences on behalf of the Italian government and praised Sassoli as “a man of institutions, a deeply pro-European, a passionate journalist, a balanced, A symbol of humanity and generosity”.

Sassoli’s Democratic leader and longtime friend Enrico Letta praised Sassoli’s European enthusiasm and vision and vowed to carry them forward, even though “we know we can’t.”

In a tweet, Letta called Sassoli “a very generous man, a passionate European” and a man of “vision and principles, theory and practice.”

Another centre-left former prime minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, called his death a “terrible loss”.

“I will always remember his leadership, passion and generous friendship. #CiaoDavid,” Gentiloni tweeted.

Sassori was first elected to the European Parliament in 2009. He was re-elected in 2014 as its Vice-Chairman. He started out as a newspaper reporter before becoming a high-profile presenter in Italy. It was a stepping stone to his political career.

He had considered running for the second part of his five-year term, which begins next week, but decided against running for re-election when lawmakers chose a new president in Strasbourg, France.

Roberta Mezzola, a Christian Democrat who was due to replace Sassoli next week, said: “My heart is broken. Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion .” She said Sassoli “has dedicated his life to making the world a better and fairer place”.

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Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield and Sam Petrequin in Rome contributed to this report.

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