David Sassoli, a life shared between journalism and a passion for Europe

The President of the European Parliament, the Italian David Sassoli, died on the night of Monday to Tuesday at the age of 65 in a hospital in Aviano in the Italian province of Pordenone. He had chaired the European Parliament since 2019, a mandate won to everyone’s surprise by this former journalist who entered politics ten years earlier under the colors of the center-left and for which he was fully involved. It was only this Monday that was announced the hospitalization of David Sassolidue to a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system“at the same time as the cancellation of its official activities.

Having suffered in the past from leukemia, David Sassoli had already been hospitalized this fall for pneumonia due to the Legionella bacteria which had kept him away from Parliament for several weeks. David Sassoli – married and father of two – explained it himself in a video posted on Twitter after the recovery.

The date of his funeral is to be announced shortly. The flags of the institutions of the European Union have been half-masted.

His mandate at the head of the assembly since 2019, expired this month, at the half of the quinquennial legislature. The name of his successor is not yet known. He or she will be elected next week in plenary session.

A familiar face for Italians

Born May 30, 1956 in Florence, Tuscany, David Sassoli frequented Catholic scouts and guides in his youth. After studying political science and journalism, he started working for small newspapers and in news agencies like ASCA before moving to the daily “Il Giorno”. In 1989, he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall on the spot. In 1992, he made the leap to RAI, the Italian public broadcaster, where he became one of the star presenters of the first channel then deputy director of the JT.

Love at first sight for politics came in 2009 when the left-wing ex-mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, organized the merger of two major left and center-left parties, a project to which David Sassoli joined, and which gives birth to the Democratic Party.

Candidate for the European elections, he was elected on a list of the PD with more than 400,000 votes, a success which definitively removed him from the screens and which launched his political career within the European Parliament.

Failure in Rome, expert in Brussels

Head of the PD delegation within this institution, he attempted a foray into the national political scene by running for the primaries of this party for the post of mayor of Rome in 2013, but was overtaken by Ignazio Marino who would be elected later. At the mayor.

Since this abortive attempt, David Sassoli devoted himself to the European assembly of which he was one of the most expert deputies. Reelected in 2014, he became vice-president of the Parliament in charge of the budget and Euro-Mediterranean policy.

Considered a facilitator, a man capable of maneuvering without making waves to wrest a consensus, he claimed the paternity of “the most important railway reform in the European Union – the European Sassoli-Dijksma law – which was adopted in 2017 after three years of complicated negotiations“on opening up national passenger transport markets to competition.

He said he didn’t have “completely abandoned his career as a journalist“and still collaborated with various dailies and magazines while writing columns.

He was the author in 2013, along with Francesco Saverio Romano, of a book on the advice of ministers during the kidnapping of Aldo Moro in the spring of 1978.

Nothing is possible without men, nothing is sustainable without institutions“, he had declared before his election to his fellow deputies, quoting the sentence of Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the EU.

President surprise

On July 3, 2019, David Sassoli was elected President of the European Parliament. Little inclined to outbursts but holding the debates in the hemicycle with a firm hand, he took over the presidency of the assembly at the end of negotiations between major political forces and governments for the presidencies of the three European institutions.

The Commission went to the EPP (pro-European right) with Ursula von der Leyen, the Council to the Liberals with Charles Michel and the Parliament finally to the Socialists with David Sassoli.

His nationality, his party – the second component of the Social Democratic group – and his knowledge of the institution, made him, at the last minute, the man for the job.

In his inaugural speech, David Sassoli recalled the importance of taking action to combat climate change, the need for a policy that is closer to citizens and their needs, especially young people, and the urgent need to strengthen parliamentary democracy and to promote European values.

Barely elected, David Sassoli wanted to pay tribute to all the victims of terrorism in Europe, by going to one of the sites of the 2016 Brussels attacks to commemorate the victims at the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels.

In 2019, he demanded the release of Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan president elected to the European Parliament and imprisoned in Spain following the crisis over the independence of Catalonia.

He saw his mandate of two and a half years weighed down by the health crisis. But the attention paid to his teams, put into teleworking, his sense of organization, with a remote voting system, and his ability to resist French pressure to bring elected officials back to Strasbourg, earned him the respect of the institution.

Defender of freedoms, he was registered in the defense of civil rights in Russia, active in particular on the fate of Alexei Navalny, which had earned him to end up on a blacklist of European officials boycotted by Moscow along with 7 other European leaders. banned from entering Russian territory.

A sign of solidarity in the midst of a pandemic, he made the deserted premises of Parliament available, both in Strasbourg and Brussels, for the preparation of meals for families in need and to set up a Covid screening center.

Recovering from leukemia, his health was his Achilles heel. Heavy smoker and good-natured, he was hospitalized in serious condition last September, due to pneumonia which kept him away from Parliament for several weeks.

On December 26, he was hospitalized again “due to a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system“, according to its spokesperson.

A fan of his hometown football team, Fiorentina, David Sassoli shared his leisure time between reading and gardening in his country house in Sutri, a medieval town north of Rome.

European leaders welcome “a champion of democracy” and “a leader

The President of the European Parliament leaves the memory of a “champion of democracy“, of a”fighter of europe“, “accessible” and “nice“according to the tributes of MEPs and leaders of the European Union.

Sincere and passionate European, we already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.“, reacted the President of the European Council Charles Michel.

I am extremely saddened by this terrible loss of a great European and proud Italian, caring journalist, extraordinary President of Parliament and above all a dear friend.“, said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

His group, the Social Democrats (S&D), the second political force in the European Parliament, had given up in mid-December to present a candidate, paving the way for the election of the EPP candidate (right), the current first Vice-President of Parliament, the Maltese Roberta Metsola. “My heart is broken. Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion“, said the latter on Twitter.

He was a man who was close to the people, not only to those at his decision-making level but also to the little people of Parliament, who was really accessible. He did not change when he became president, he remained himself.“, recalls Marc Tarabella.

We will remember a democratic and pro-European leader. You were bright, generous, happy“said his compatriot Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner for the Economy.”Her kindness was an inspiration to all“, adds Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the Commission.

Pioneer of new technologies in Parliament

In Belgium, some MEPs have also already reacted, in particular Benoît Lutgen who greets “a fan of European construction“which led to the establishment of a”firm hand but always benevolent“.

The co-chair of the Verts / ALE group, Philippe Lamberts, said “upset“by the death of David Sassoli.”I will remember his kindness and his concern for the common good.

Olivier Chastel learned “with great sadness“the death of the Speaker of Parliament.”David Sassoli appeared to us as a convinced European, declares the liberal MEP, he is someone who worked tirelessly for this European construction. He wanted to put his political weight at the service of the European Parliament. He was a great defender of the rule of law and European values. His tenure has not been easy with both Brexit and the Covid crisis. […] He must have noted opposition to his decisions because some parliamentarians wanted at all costs to maintain the parliamentary debate in physical presence even sometimes in dramatic conditions. It has equipped the European Parliament with new technologies for distance communication, which makes Parliament a much better equipped institution for the future, to avoid reverting to the old system which was very expensive. From the Sassoli era there will remain a hybrid mode of operation in the European Parliament “.

Marc Botenga, MEP for the PTB, will remember “for his unfailing commitment and kindness“.

Assita Kanko (N-VA) remembers an elegant, humble, respectful person with whom he was “nice to work” and that “went beyond political divisions, which sought to unite”.

Pascal Arimont (CSP – PPE) also underlines his character “smiling, never stressed”: “The nice and competent guy”. “He knew how to smooth things over but also be firm”.

6 images

In June 2021, David Sassoli and Pope Francis © VATICAN MEDIA / AFP
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