David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament and an Italian social democrat, died in Italy overnight, according to his spokesperson.
He was 65 and had been in a hospital in Aviano, Italy, since Dec. 26 “because of a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system” and that all official activities had been canceled.
“The @EP_President David Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano (PN), Italy, where he was hospitalized. The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours,” Roberto Cuillo posted on Twitter.
Sassoli quit his long career in broadcast journalism in 2009 to run for a seat in the European Parliament as a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the European Union legislature’s second-largest faction.
His election as President of the European Parliament came as a surprise, at least to him, and was part of an intricate deal struck by EU leaders that also included the election of German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission and Belgian free-market liberal Charles Michel as President of the European Council.
“deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian,” wrote European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter. She described Sassoli as “a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend”.
Enrico Letta, the leader of Sassoli’s Democratic Party (PD), described him as “someone of extraordinary generosity, a passionate European” with “vision and ideals, theoretical and practical.”
David Sassoli has been suffering from terrible health for months. Having previously battled leukemia, he was hospitalized in September during a plenary session of Parliament due to a severe bout of pneumonia.
He returned to Italy to recover, but a relapse forced him to leave his job for a while. After medical testing relating to a case of Legionnaires’ disease, he was gone again in November.
In December, his health improved enough for him to preside over a European Parliament session to present Alexei Navalny’s daughter with the EU’s top human rights prize, the Sakharov Prize, on behalf of the Kremlin critic.
Sassoli’s time as President of the European Parliament was expected to end this month, halfway through the five-year legislative term that began in 2019.
“I’m heartbroken. “Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend, and democracy has lost a champion,” said Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was expected to succeed Sassoli as parliament president next week, according to Euronews.
Sassoli “committed his life to make the world a better, fairer place,” she added.