European Parliament President Sassoli dies at age 65: NPR

European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died in a hospital in Italy on Tuesday, will chair a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, in November.

Jean-Francois Badias / AP file image

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Jean-Francois Badias / AP file image

European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died in a hospital in Italy on Tuesday, will chair a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, in November.

Jean-Francois Badias / AP file image

BRUSSELS – David Sassoli, the Italian journalist who worked his way up in politics while defending the oppressed and oppressed to become president of the European Parliament, died at a hospital in Italy early Tuesday, his spokesman said.

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 given in a tweet from spokesman Roberto Cuillo. Sassoli, a 65-year-old socialist, had been hospitalized since Dec. 26 due to abnormal functioning of his immune system, Cuillo said in a statement released the day before Sassoli’s death.

Sassoli had been battling ill health for several months after contracting pneumonia caused by the legionella bacterium in September. His health declined steadily afterwards, and he was forced to miss several important legislative meetings. Yet he remained as far as possible at work, where his power of action and light smile were a trademark. He was at his strongest when he took up the case of migrants who died by crossing the Mediterranean, or dissidents like Alexei Navalny, taking over the Kremlin from a prison cell.

In recent months, he has improved enough to chair a session of the European Parliament in December to award the EU’s most important human rights prize, the Sakharov Prize, to Navalny’s daughter. High in symbolism, it became his political will.

“In the last week of December there was an exacerbation of the disease, and then the last days of his struggle,” Cuillo told Italy’s Sky TG24.

He leaves behind his wife, Alessandra Vittorini, and his children, Livia and Giulio.

Sassoli came to lead the Legislative Assembly in 2019 after a complicated round of political struggle between EU leaders, with the German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen also chairing the EU Commission and the Belgian Free Market Liberal Michel taking the chair of the EU Council .

Although often overshadowed by von der Leyen and Michel, Sassoli led an institution that has become increasingly powerful over the years and has helped to set the course for the EU in many sectors, be it the digital economy, climate or Brexit.

The European Parliament represents the EU’s 450 million citizens and refers to itself as “the heart of European democracy.” It has more than 700 members elected directly by the member states.

“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 excellent President of the European Parliament and, above all, a dear friend.”

He was equally respected in Italy. The leader of the Italian Democratic Party and a longtime friend, Enrico Letta, praised Sassoli’s European passion and vision and promised to carry them forward, even though “we know we are not up to it.”

In a tweet, Letta called Sassoli “an extraordinary generosity, a passionate European” and a man with “visions and principles, theoretical and practical.”

Another former Italian center-left 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 as a newspaper journalist before starting to broadcast as a high-profile presenter in Italy. It was a springboard for his political career.

He had considered running for the second part of the five-year term, which starts next week, but decided not to run for re-election when lawmakers elect their new president in Strasbourg, France.

Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was already set to take over from Sassoli next week, said: “I am crushed. Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion.” She said Sassoli “devoted his life to making the world a better and fairer place.”

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