European Parliament President David Maria Sassoli has died at the age of 65, his spokesperson announced on Tuesday.
Sassoli, an Italian Social Democrat, former journalist, and television news anchor from Florence, died at 1:15 a.m. local time, his spokesperson, Roberto Cuillo, said on Twitter.
“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,” Cuillo said. “The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours.” Cuillo did not give details regarding the circumstances of Sassoli’s death.
Sassoli, who has previously been treated for leukemia, has been hospitalized multiple times since September due to serious health issues, including pneumonia.
Due to his ongoing health problems, he has been unable to chair the Strasbourg-based parliament in recent weeks and did not attend the European Commission’s annual state of the union event, where he was set to deliver a speech, in September.
On Monday, his office said he had most recently been in hospital since Dec. 26 “because of a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system.” As a result, all of his official activities were again canceled.
Born in Florence on May 30, 1956, Sassoli began his career working as a journalist at small newspapers and news agencies, before moving to the editorial office of the Italian-language national daily newspaper Il Giorno in Rome, where he worked for seven years.
In 1992, he began working as a television news reporter and correspondent for the Italian state-owned TV channel TeleGiornale 3 (TG3) where he also worked on news programs on Rai Uno and Rai Due before joining the editorial staff of TG1 seven years later as a special correspondent.
Over the next 10 years, Sassoli became a household name covering major national and international events and in 2007, he became deputy director of TG1.
On June 7, 2009, he was elected to the European Parliament as a member for central Italy before being reelected again in 2014, as well as being elected vice-president of the European Parliament, where he was responsible for Mediterranean policy, the budget, and buildings.
Sassoli began his third term as a member of the European Parliament in May 2019 and was elected president of the 705-member Parliament on July 3, replacing outgoing president Antonio Tajani.
In an interview with POLITICO at the time, Sassoli admitted he was surprised at being the last-minute choice for the Parliament presidency, where he faced stiff competition from Sergei Stanishev, a Bulgarian who was the president of the Party of European Socialists.
“It happened at the very last minute,” Sassoli said. “I wasn’t on the EU leaders’ list, I am not a product of the Council. I am the product of a conclusion pro-European groups of the Parliament have reached.”
Stanishev on Tuesday reposted a Twitter post from the Party of European Socialists that reads: “Shocked and terribly saddened by the death of EP president David #Sassoli, a generous, good man who fought for the European project until the end. Our thoughts are with his family. He will be very much missed.”
In his inaugural speech, Sassoli had urged Europeans to counter the “virus” of extreme nationalism and called for a reform of EU rules on migration and political asylum.
“In these months, too many people have fueled divisions and conflicts that we thought were a sad reminder of our history. Instead, the citizens have shown that they still believe in this extraordinary path, the only one capable of providing answers to the global challenges before us,” Sassoli said.
“We must have the strength to relaunch our integration process, changing our Union so to be able to respond more strongly to the needs of our citizens and give real answers to their concerns, to their increasingly widespread sense of loss,” he said.
His death comes just days before the end of his term as president. The European Parliament is due to elect his successor in Strasbourg next week.