European Parliament President David Sassoli dies at age 65

BRUSSELS (AP) – David Sassoli, the Italian journalist who rose through the ranks in politics while defending the oppressed and repressed to become speaker of the European Union parliament, died Tuesday morning in an Italian hospital, his door said -speak.

EU Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli “a sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his kindness and his smile.

No details were provided in a Tweeter by spokesperson Roberto Cuillo. Sassoli, a 65-year-old socialist, had been hospitalized since Dec. 26 due to an abnormal functioning of his immune system, Cuillo said in a statement released the day before Sassoli’s death.

Sassoli had struggled for months with poor health after suffering from pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria in September. His health declined steadily thereafter, and he had to miss several important legislative meetings. Yet as much as possible he stayed at work, where his vigor and easy smile had always been a hallmark. He was at his strongest when he championed the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean or dissidents like Alexei Navalny, who confronts the Kremlin from a prison cell.

In recent months, he has improved enough to chair a session of the European Parliament in December and award the main European human rights prize, the Sakharov Prize, to Navalny’s daughter. High in symbolism, it has become his political testament.

“In the last week of December the disease got worse and then the last days of his battle,” Cuillo told Sky TG24 in Italy.

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

Sassoli came to the head of the legislature in 2019 following a complex political fight between EU leaders which also saw the German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen become president of the European Commission and the Belgian liberal free market Michel take the post of President of the Council of the EU. Sassoli and von der Leyen were chosen by EU leaders almost out of the blue, toppling themselves and the rest of the world.

Although he has often been overshadowed by von der Leyen and Michel, Sassoli has led an institution which has grown increasingly powerful over the years and has become an instrument for charting the course of the European Union in many sectors. , whether it’s the digital economy, the climate or Brexit.

A skilful political shaker, using his good humor to the bitter end, he has helped tackle many of the most important political issues facing the EU – and nothing more than the $ 1.8 trillion pandemic stimulus fund. euros and the seven-year budget.

Yet his 2.5 years at the helm have been affected both by the pandemic, which has often turned the European Parliament into a remote digital institution where its human warmth has lost impact, and by the deterioration of its own. health.

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

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

He was equally respected in Italy.

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

Sassoli’s Democratic Party leader and longtime friend Enrico Letta praised Sassoli’s European passion and vision and pledged to take them forward, even though “we know we are falling short” .

In a tweet, Letta called Sassoli “someone of extraordinary generosity, a passionate European” and a man of “vision and principles, theory and practice”.

Another former center-left Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, called his death a “terrible loss”.

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

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 press journalist before entering the audiovisual industry as a leading presenter in Italy. It was a springboard for his political career.

He had planned to run for the second part of the five-year term that begins next week, but decided not to stand for election when lawmakers chose their new president in Strasbourg, France.

Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was due to take over from 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 “dedicated his life to making the world a better and fairer place”.

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Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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