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22nd Jan 2022

Tributes for EU Parliament's Sassoli after sudden death

  • Italian David Sassoli, 65, had been president of the 705-seat parliament since July 2019 (Photo: European Parliament)
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The unexpected death of David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, in the early hours of Tuesday (11 January) shocked the EU institutions, whose leaders spoke of a "passionate European, a sincere democrat and a good man".

Sassoli, an Italian socialist and former journalist, died in an Aviano hospital where he had been admitted on 26 December due to "a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system", his spokesman said.

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Sassoli was 65. He had been president of the 705-seat parliament since July 2019, in a somewhat surprising result after EU leaders negotiated for days about the new senior EU officials.

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola, from the conservative European People's Party (EPP), is expected to take over as she is the first vice-president of the European Parliament, and had been expected to succeed him in a vote next week.

"I am heartbroken. Europe has lost a leader, I have a lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion. David Sassoli dedicated his life to making the world a better, fairer place," Metsola said.

Dozens of MEPs gathered in front of the parliament's main Brussels building, named after another Italian politician Altiero Spinelli, to commemorate Sassoli. Iratxe Garcia, a Spanish MEP, who leads Sassoli's centre-left group, was visibly shaken.

"Devastated by the loss of my friend and colleague David Sassoli, a great president of the European Parliament, a passionate and committed European and a really warm-hearted person," Garcia said.

Flags at EU institutions were lowered to half mast, and the parliament will hold a ceremony for his memory next Monday at the plenary sitting.

Last September, Sassoli was urgently hospitalised in Strasbourg, and then transferred for a longer treatment in Italy, which, after returning to work in the parliament, explained that he had very severe pneumonia. He fought a private battle: he had undergone a bone marrow transplant 10 years ago.

"Sassoli was a symbol of balance, humanity and generosity. These qualities have always been recognised by all his colleagues, from every political quarter and every European country," Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said.

Pandemic president

Born in Florence, Sassoli had moved to Rome to follow in his father's footsteps, who was also a journalist. Nevertheless, he remained a fan of the Fiorentina football club throughout his life.

First working at newspapers then moving into broadcasting, he was a host on RAI television and later with TG1. He was a familiar face in Italy before moving onto the European scene as an MEP.

To those who knew him, the first word that comes to mind about him is "kind".

History was, however, not kind to him: the Covid-19 pandemic hit the parliament hard. Social distancing made live debates impossible, legislation slowed down, MEPs had to fight to keep the political weight of the institution.

Sassoli took extraordinary, and often difficult, decisions.

He introduced a remote voting system to keep the parliament going, opened up some of the European Parliament's buildings for those in need in the early days of the pandemic, and oversaw the decision to distribute meals in all three bases of the parliament - including Luxembourg and Strasbourg.

"He wanted Europe to be more united, closer to its people, more faithful to our values. That's his legacy," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said of the first parliament president to have died in office.

"The emptiness that David Sassoli leaves is great. A passionate, loyal, intelligent politician, capable of reconciling two qualities that are difficult to match in politics: serenity and firmness in principles," former Italian prime minister and ex-commission chief Romani Prodi said of him according to ANSA.

He added: "And even before that he was a distinguished journalist. He was dedicated to defending human rights, to the most fragile, to fight against inequalities and disparities."

Sassoli had planned to write to books and teach after his presidency came to a close. He is mourned by his wife and two children.

"Our challenge is to build a new world that respects people and nature, and believes in a new economy based not just on profits for a few, but on well-being for all," Sassoli said in his Christmas message.

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