EU Parliament Speaker David Sassoli dies at 65, remembered as a champion of democracy

European Parliament President David Sassoli has died due to complications from the immune system.

The Italian politician had been battling his health since September, but continued his duties as EU parliament speaker for as long as possible. He is remembered by his allies for his commitment to justice, whether for migrants crossing the Mediterranean or political prisoners in Russia.

“When we don’t ignore the needy, we can be that hope,” Sassoli said during his New Year’s address. “When we don’t build walls on our borders. When we fight all kinds of injustice. Here’s to us, here’s hope.”

Sassoli helped preside over the European Union along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. Despite the coronavirus pandemic and internal conflicts, he has been recognized as a compromiser, bringing difficult debates to a successful conclusion.

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

Michelle shared a similar sentiment, calling her an “honest and passionate European. We already remember her human warmth, her generosity, her friendliness and her smile.”

Sasoli is survived by his wife and two children. The European Commission will observe a minute’s silence during its meeting on Wednesday, and flags are currently flown at half-mast at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Germany.

European Parliament President David Sassoli looks on during a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the European Parliament Presidents’ Conference on December 9, 2021 in Paris. Sassoli died on Tuesday after a battle with immune system complications.
Photo by Bertrand Guay / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

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

Over the past few months, he reformed enough to preside over the European Parliament session in December to present the European Union’s main human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to the daughter of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Pope Francis, who welcomed Sasoli to audiences last year, sent an unusually heartfelt telegram of condolences to Sasoli’s wife, paying tribute to her as “an animated believer of hope and charity… who acted in a peaceful and dignified manner, with generous commitment to the common good.”

A lifelong fan of Fiorentina football club, he emulated the refined style of the team where Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Baggio flourished. But in the end, like the Florence club, he never reached the highest level. Being the head of the European Parliament is not compared to being the prime minister or leading the European Commission or the Council.

Even if he often supervised von der Leyen and Michel, Sassoli led an institution that has become more powerful over the years and has been able to chart the course of the European Union in many areas. Be it the digital economy, climate or Brexit.

His peak came on the European scene, but he was equally respected in his native Italy.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi offered condolences on behalf of the Italian government and paid tribute to Sassoli as “a man of institutions, a deeply European supporter, a passionate journalist, Sassoli was a symbol of balance, humanity, generosity.”

The head of Sassoli’s Democratic Party and a longtime friend, Enrico Letta, praised Sassoli’s European passion and vision and vowed to carry them forward, although “we know we are not over it.”

Sassoli was first elected to the European Parliament in 2009. He won another term in 2014 and served as its vice-president. He started out as a newspaper reporter before entering broadcasting in Italy as a high-profile presenter. This was the ladder of his political career.

He had considered running for the second half of a five-year term starting next week, but decided not to run for re-election when lawmakers elected his new president in Strasbourg, France.

Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who is set to take over from Sassoli next week, said: “I am sad. Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion.” ” She said that Sassoli “dedicated her life to making the world a better, better place.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eu half-mast
European Union flags are flown at half-mast outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on January 11, 2022 as a tribute to the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, who died at the age of 65. Sasoli passed away in the early hours of Tuesday. At the hospital where he was admitted on December 26, what his spokesman said was “a serious complication due to immune system dysfunction.”
Photo by Patrick Hertz/AFP via Getty Images