David-Maria Sassoli, an Italian center-left politician and former journalist chosen to lead the European Parliament in 2019, died early Tuesday from serious complications with his immune system, his spokesman said. He was 65 and had been in a hospital in Aviano, Italy, since Dec. 26.
Sassoli left a long career in broadcast journalism to win a seat in the European Parliament in 2009 as a member of the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest faction in the 705-member European Union legislature. His selection as European Parliament president was a last-minute surprise, at least to him, and part of an intricate deal among EU leaders that also placed German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission president and Belgian free-market liberal Charles Michel as European Council president.
Michel called Sassoli a "sincere and passionate European" after his death was announced and said, "we already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness, and his smile." Von der Leyen mourned "the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian" who "was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend."
The EU Parliament president, one of the top jobs in the 450 million-member bloc, presides over sessions and oversees the legislature's activities. Sassoli, a conciliatory leader, "had spent much of his two-and-a-half-year term steering the Parliament through the extraordinary difficulty of the coronavirus pandemic, which effectively shuttered its buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg for some time," and hammering out a budget deal, Politico reports.
Sassoli had already decided against seeking re-election next month, and EU lawmakers are expected to pick Roberta Metsola, a conservative from Malta and first vice president of Parliament, as his successor.