BRUSSELS – David Sassoli, an Italian journalist turned politician who served as President of the European Parliament and spent his final years seeking to increase his powers during the difficult years of Brexit and the pandemic, died in Italy on Tuesday. He was 65 years old.
His office said on Twitter that he died in the town of Aviano, in northeastern Italy. No cause was given, but he was in poor health. He was hospitalized with severe pneumonia in September at an annual Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, France, and admitted to an Italian hospital on December 26 because his immune system was not functioning normally, his spokesperson said on Monday. word, Roberto Cuillo. on social networks.
Mr Sassoli had a decades-long career in print and broadcast media in his native Italy, covering milestones like the fall of the Berlin Wall, before trying his hand at politics in 2009.
He was elected MEP of the center-left Democratic Party and re-elected twice, in 2014 and 2019, the same year he was elected president of the body, whose 705 seats bring together MEPs from the 27 Member States of the European Union. He led an unsuccessful campaign to become mayor of Rome in 2013.
Mr Sassoli led Parliament through a difficult period during his two-and-a-half-year term. He was its first president after Britain left the European Union in early 2020, a historic development that has emboldened critics of the EU and further fragmented its politics.
Mr Sassoli led the European Parliament through negotiations on landmark climate legislation and a $ 2.2 trillion economic fund aimed at helping the bloc recover from the impact of the coronavirus. When the pandemic struck, he and Parliament were fighting for more power and influence in the EU power structure.
Unlike national legislatures, the European Parliament cannot propose laws. Mr Sassoli argued that allowing him to do so would make the bloc “more democratic, stronger and more innovative”.
The European Parliament, which meets regularly in Strasbourg and does much of its work in Brussels, approves or rejects legislation, establishes budgets and oversees various institutions within the European Union. Its members serve five-year terms; the next elections will take place in 2024. Parliament also plays a crucial role in the selection of the President of the European Commission, whose members are appointed by national governments.
The pandemic has disrupted parliamentary work in person, disadvantaging the institution and reinforcing a roundabout way of doing business in the European Union, a disparate group of nations of varying wealth that often make important decisions behind closed doors through a handful eminent leaders.
The Parliament is seen as the least powerful of the three main EU institutions, the other two being the European Commission, which is the executive body of the bloc, and the European Council, which brings together national political leaders. Mr Sassoli was praised for fighting to maintain the relevance of the institution and to rapidly advance his online activities.
“I think one of the big projects that was under his shield was the digitization of our work during Covid,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, German MP with the Greens. “It was a difficult transition, and he guided us through it.” Mr. Sassoli, he added, “was a person of procedure and serene stewardship”.
Mr Sassoli showed a combative side in October, when he led the European Parliament’s legal service to sue the European Commission for failing to use its own rules to cut funding to member states, especially Poland and Hungary , who were reversing the rule of law. standards, such as an independent judiciary.
“EU member states that violate the rule of law should not receive EU funds,” Sassoli said in a letter to the then legal service. He added: “The European Union is a community founded on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. If these are threatened in a Member State, the EU must act to protect them. “
His decision to fight on the issue reflected what he said was his firm belief in what the European Union stood for, especially as many European leaders turned a blind eye to violations of the rule of law by the Hungary and Poland. It was also an initiative to increase the importance of Parliament and broaden its role.
“Its Parliament was bolder and more courageous than previous Parliaments,” said Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet professor of European Union law at the HEC Paris business school.
“David was not a traditional politician, and it made a huge difference, as he felt more free to speak out,” Prof. Alemanno said, adding: “As far as the rule of law is concerned, David Sassoli was the only European leader who was in power to speak the truth.
Despite the clash with the European Commission, its president, Ursula von der Leyen, praised Mr Sassoli on Tuesday, saying he had “constantly defended our union and its values”.
“But he also believed that Europe should fight for more,” she said in a statement. “He wanted Europe to be more united, closer to its citizens, more faithful to our values.
The election of the new president is due to take place next week.
David Maria Sassoli was born in Florence, Italy on May 30, 1956. His father, Domenico, was a journalist and intellectual. David showed an interest in public life in his youth, getting involved with the White Rose, a Roman Catholic political association.
He started his journalistic career at a young age, working for small newspapers and broadcasting organizations, according to his website and a short biography posted online by his political group in Parliament. He then joined the team of the Roman newspaper Il Giorno as a reporter before becoming a press correspondent for the TG3 television channel in 1992.
Mr. Sassoli was married to Alessandra Vittorini and had two children, Livia and Giulio. Complete information on the survivors was not immediately available. His body was to rest Tuesday at the town hall in Rome.
His death has been widely mourned in Italy. Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed his “dismay”, calling Sassoli “a symbol of balance, kindness and generosity”. In a telegram addressed to the wife of Mr. Sassoli, Pope Francis noted his “sincere participation in the deep sorrow that has afflicted Italy and the European Union”, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican.
An Italian state television presenter became too emotional to continue broadcasting the reactions to her death and had to be replaced.
Hundreds of members and employees of the European Parliament gathered on Tuesday afternoon in front of the organization’s building in Brussels to commemorate Mr Sassoli and observed a minute of silence.
“Her tireless work to care for the most vulnerable, in Europe and abroad, will be missed. And of course his support for the European project itself, which he has always considered more of a human project than an economic one, ”said Francesco Bortoletto, a 25-year-old parliamentary intern. “We all really loved him.”
Elisabetta povoledo contribution to reports from Rome; Gaia Pianigiani from Siena, Italy; and Mike ives from Seoul.