David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, has died at the age of 65. He was admitted to hospital in his native Italy on December 26 after a “dysfunction of his immune system,” his spokesman said, and died at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday morning.
The Italian Democrat was elected in 2019 and would resign next week under a power-sharing agreement with the center-right European People’s Party that divided the five-year presidential term between two parliamentary groupings.
Politicians across the political spectrum paid tribute to the former journalist and center-left MEP.
Ursula von der Leyen, the center-right president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter in Italian: “I am deeply saddened by the death of a great European and Italian.
“Sassoli was a passionate journalist, an extraordinary president of the European Parliament and above all a dear friend.
“My thoughts go out to his family. Rest in peace, dear David. ”
Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, wrote: “David Sassoli, EP president and dear friend, is dead. I have a lack of words. His kindness was an inspiration to all who knew him. My deepest sympathy to his family and all his loved ones. Goodbye my friend. ”
Parliament is the only directly elected EU body, but its powers are dwarfed by those of the commission, which proposes the most legislation, and the council of member states, which has the final say. However, MEPs amend legislation and play a role in drafting the budget and approving top appointments.
Sassoli continued to demand a greater role for parliament and managed to get a budget increase for its priorities such as vaccines for developing countries and the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Parliament has also pushed the block towards ambitious climate targets and generally supports a greater role for Brussels in the development of areas such as justice, health and defense.
Sassoli recently launched legal action against the commission for failing to stop funding to Poland for alleged violations of judges’ independence.
Sassoli beat Sergei Stanishev, a former Bulgarian prime minister, and several other candidates for the post.
He will probably be followed by Roberta Metsola, a Maltese MEP elected by the EPP as its candidate for president.
“I am sad. “Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion,” she wrote on Twitter. “David Sassoli has dedicated his life to making the world a better, fairer place.”
Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, expressed his condolences in a written statement, saying Sassoli was “a man of institutions, a profoundly pro-European”, whose untimely and sudden “shockingness”.
Sassoli, born in Florence in 1956, joined the Italian national broadcaster RAI in 1992. He became a household name who hosted the headline news and was the broadcaster’s deputy director.
He entered politics in 2009 and joined the Democratic Party which was formed from the two main parties of the left. He was elected to the European Parliament the same year.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he developed hybrid sessions with remote tuning and temporarily scrapped the monthly commute for sessions in Strasbourg.
Sassoli is survived by his wife Alessandra, and two children.