David Sassoli: the European parliament president dead at 65

Journalist turned senior EU figure passed away after brief hospitalisation

European Parliament President David Sassoli
(Image credit: Frederick Florin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

European Parliament President David Sassoli has died at the age of 65, his spokesperson has announced.

The 65-year-old Italian politician and former journalist had been “in hospital since 26 December with ‘a serious complication due to a dysfunction of his immune system’”, The Guardian said. He died in the early hours of Tuesday morning in a hospital in Aviano, northeast Italy, his spokesperson tweeted.

“Sassoli had been struggling with poor health for months”, Sky News said, working remotely throughout October before resuming his duties in November.

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Migrant champion

Born in Florence, Sassoli studied political science at the University of Rome before becoming a journalist at Italian daily newspaper Il Tempo.

He then moved to Il Giorno, where he covered politics, before becoming a broadcast journalist with state-owned television station TG3. He later shifted roles, becoming an anchor on TG1, where he became the most recognisable journalist in the country.

Throughout his journalism career, he was a notable supporter of Articolo 21, liberi di… (Article 21, free to…), an association of journalists, writers, directors and lawyers that promotes freedom of expression in Italy.

He left journalism in 2009, becoming a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and running in the 2009 European Parliament election. He also ran as the centre-left candidate in the 2013 Rome mayoral election, coming second.

In 2014, Sassoli was elected vice-president of the European Parliament with 393 votes, making him the second most voted for socialist candidate. He then became president of the parliament in July 2019, the seventh Italian to hold the office.

A vote to elect his replacement had already been planned for later this month, and Sassoli had indicated that he would not seek re-election.

While serving in the European Parliament, Sassoli was “known for taking up the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean and dissidents such as Alexei Navalny, Sky News reported. His “final political intervention had been to oppose the building of walls on the EU’s borders“, The Guardian said.

Alongside his responsibilities as president, he also sat on the European Parliament Intergroup on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

His arrival in the chamber was traditionally announced with the title “Il Presidente”, the Daily Mirror said, as “unlike some EU officials, who speak in English and French in public appearances, Sassoli had made a point of using Italian”.

Sassoli was taken to hospital in Strasbourg in September “where he was treated for a severe case of pneumonia caused by legionella”, the BBC reported. “He later told his followers on social media that he had suffered a relapse while recuperating in Italy.”

That month he told Italian daily paper Corriere della Sera that “pneumonia is an ugly beast”, adding: “The important thing is to avoid relapses and the convalescence must be adequate.”

Sassoli was married to Alessandra Vittorini and leaves behind two children.

‘Europe lost a leader’

Tributes have poured in for Sassoli, with European Council President Charles Michel describing him as a “sincere and passionate European” and adding: “We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.”

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “I am deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian.

“David Sassoli was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend.”

MEP Roberta Metsola, who is running as the European People’s Party candidate to succeed Sassoli as parliament president, tweeted that she was “heartbroken”, adding: “Europe has lost a leader, I have a lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion.”

President of the Eurogroup and Irish Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe said in a tweet that he was “shocked and sad” on hearing the news.

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