David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, dies at 65

BRUSSELS, (AP) -- David Sasoli, an Italian journalist, died Tuesday at 65 in an Italian hospital. He was a former politician who fought for the oppressed and helped the downtrodden to rise in politics.

David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, dies at 65

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, called Sassoli "sincere" and "passionate European." Already, we miss his humanity, his kindness, generosity, friendliness, and smile.

Roberto Cuillo, Sassoli's spokesman, said that Sassoli was a socialist and had been in hospital since Dec. 26, due to abnormal immune system functioning. Sassoli will be buried at Rome's Santa Maria degli Angeli on Friday, where state funerals are held.

Sassoli was in poor health for several months after suffering from pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria in September. After the infection, his health declined steadily and he had to miss important legislative meetings. He remained on the job as long as possible. His vigor, smile, and energy were his trademark. When he became involved in the case of migrants who had died crossing the Mediterranean, or dissidents like Alexei Navalny (Russian opposition leader), he was at his best.

"Everyone loved him for his smile and kindness, but he was able to fight for what his beliefs in," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recalled, recalling how Sassoli had been to Germany over 30 years ago to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall.

His benchmark was European unity, as well as justice for all Europeans.

French President Emmanuel Macron stated that "our union has lost simultaneously an Italian patriot and a great European, a tireless humanist,"

He has made significant improvements over the last few months and was able to preside at a European Parliament session in Dec to present the main EU human rights award, The Sakharov Prize to Navalny's child. It was full of symbolism and showed him at his best. His wishes for the New Year were a few weeks later and he was an optimist with high expectations.

"We can be that kind of hope if we don't forget those who are in greatest need. We don't need to build walls around our borders. We must fight injustice in all its forms. He said, "Here's to us and here's hope."

His wife, Alessandra Vittorini and his children Livia and Giulio are his survivors. The European Parliament opened a register of condolences and flags were raised at half-staff. When it meets on Wednesday, the European Commission will observe a minute silence.

Pope Francis received Sassoli last year in an audience and sent a telegram of condolences that was unusually sincere to Sassoli’s wife. It paid tribute to Sassoli as an "animated believer in hope and charity... who, in peaceful and respectful ways, worked for society with a generous commitment."

He was a lifelong Fiorentina fan and emulated the elegant style of the team where Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta excelled. He didn't reach the top, just like the Florence club. It is not the same as being head of the European Parlament or leading the European Commission and Council.

After a complex bout of political infighting between EU leaders, Sassoli was elected to head the European legislature in 2019. EU leaders picked Sassoli & von der Leyen out of thin air, surprising themselves and the rest.

Even though he was often overlooked by von der Leyen or Michel, Sassoli managed an institution that has grown in power over the years. He has been instrumental in charting course for the European Union in many areas, including the climate and Brexit.

He was a skilled political shaker who used his bonhomie to the fullest. He helped to bring several of the most pressing political issues facing the EU together to a successful resolution.

His 2 1/2 years of service were impacted by the pandemic that often made the European Parliament a distant digital institution. Also, his own declining health.

Although he reached his pinnacle on the European scene, he was equally respected in his homeland of Italy.

Mario Draghi, the Italian Premier, sent condolences to Sassoli on behalf of Italy's government. He also paid tribute Sassoli as "a man with institutions, a deep pro-European and a passionate journalist. Sassoli was a symbol for balance, humanity, and generosity."

Enrico Letta (head of Sassoli’s Democratic Party) praised Sassoli for his European passion and vision, and promised to continue them forward even though "we know that we're not up there."

Sassoli was the first European Parliament member to be elected in 2009. In 2014, he was elected to a second term and served as vice president. He began his career as a journalist and then moved into broadcasting in Italy as a well-known presenter. It was a great stepping stone to his political career.

Although he had thought about running for the second half of the five-year term, which begins next week, he decided against it when the lawmakers elected their new president in Strasbourg.

Roberta Metsola (Christian Democrat) was to succeed Sassoli next Wednesday. She said that she was "heartbroken." Europe has lost an important leader, Europe has lost friends, democracy has lost champions," she said. She stated that Sassoli had "dedicated his entire life to making the world a better and fairer place."

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