David Sassoli, the Italian-born European Parliament president who had served in the position since 2009, passed away at the age of 65 on January 11 in Aviano, Italy, after having been hospitalized on December 26.
A long-time member of the EU’s halcyon days ‘old guard’, Sassoli was elected President of the European Parliament in July 2019, for the first half of a new mandate. Sassoli adopted extraordinary measures that enabled the European Parliament to carry out its duties and exercise its prerogatives under the EU Treaties during the course of the pandemic.
A former journalist, Sassoli also played a prominent role in championing an ambitious long-term EU budget and an effective recovery facility. He led the Parliament during a show of solidarity towards those, across Europe, who were most affected when the crisis first hit. With supportive actions in the European Parliament’s host cities, he helped organize the distribution of meals to the poor and the provision of shelter in the Parliament to women who are victims of domestic violence. Determined to draw from the lessons of the pandemic, Sassoli also launched a large reflection exercise with Members of Parliament to rethink and reinforce the concept of parliamentary democracy.
As a dedicated European, Sassoli underlined in his speech at the European Council in December, just a few weeks ago, that “What Europe needs, and needs most of all, is a new project of hope. I think we can build that project on the basis of a powerful three-pronged approach: a Europe that innovates; a Europe that protects; and a Europe that illuminates.
Election of the new EP President
As outlined in the Rules of Procedure (Rule 20), the interim Presidency will be ensured by the first Vice-President of the Parliament in the days leading up to an election. As originally planned, and before the sudden passing of Sassoli, the election of the President for the second half of the mandate will take place on January 18 during the Strasbourg plenary. The elections of the Vice-Presidents and Quaestors will follow in the same week.
Tributes to Sassoli
“Today is a sad day for Europe. Our Union loses a passionate European, a sincere democrat and a good man. David Sassoli was a man of deep faith and strong convictions. Everyone loved his smile and his kindness, yet he knew how to fight for what he believed in. In 1989, he was in Berlin, among the young Europeans when the Wall came down. And ever since, he has stood on the side of democracy and of a united Europe,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “In over a decade of service in the European Parliament, he constantly defended our Union and its values. But he also believed that Europe had to strive for more. He wanted Europe to be more united, closer to its people, more faithful to our values. That is his legacy. That is how I will remember him. As a champion of justice and solidarity, and a dear friend. My thoughts are with his wife, Alessandra, his children, Giulio and Livia, and all his friends.”
EU Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli a “sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile”.
“David Sassoli, EP president and dear friend, has died,” European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans wrote in a tweet. “I’m at a loss for words. His kindness was an inspiration to all who knew him. My heartfelt sympathies to his family and all his loved ones. Addio amico mio”.
Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), said he and his party are extremely sad and shocked by the passing of Sassoli. “We are without words. He was a true European and passionate ambassador of a more united and social Europe. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends in this very difficult moment.”
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic added that his political family will forever be remembered as “a tireless worker for Europe and a kind man”.
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price also sent the US’ deepest condolences to the people of the European Union, saying, “President Sassoli will be remembered as a strong supporter of the US-EU partnership, a voice for democracy and human rights globally, and an advocate for a European Union that serves its citizens and is made stronger by its diversity. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”
For her part, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde noted that Sassoli was a committed European, who put people at the heart of everything he did during his life. “My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues as we mourn this great loss.”
The European Parliament said it will honor Sassoli’s memory in a ceremony on January 17 at the opening of the plenary session in Strasbourg and in the presence of former MEP and ex-Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta.