The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, died in the early hours of Tuesday (11 January) in hospital in Italy, his spokesperson announced on Twitter.
Sassoli, who was 65-years-old had been in hospital since 26 December, where he was being treated against a dysfunction of his immune system. Before that, he had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia caused by Legionnaires disease, where he remained for several weeks.
His hospitalisation had been announced on Monday by Cuilo, who said his official duties would be cancelled. Sadly, Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on Tuesday.
“David Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano, Italy, where he was hospitalised,” Roberto Cuillo tweeted.
“The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours,” he added.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet she was deeply saddened by the passing away of “a great European and Italian”, a “passionate journalist”, an “extraordinary EP President”, and a “dear friend”.
The European Parliament sits for a five-year term between elections, but the body’s president serves for half that time. Sassoli had already indicated that he would not seek re-election.
Elected in 2019 as president, a role similar to that of a speaker in a national parliament, his two-and-a-half-year mandate was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Born in Florence on 30 May 1956, Sassoli studied political science before working as a newspaper and news agency journalist.
In 2009, Sassoli joined the Democratic Party, formed by former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni’s union of the two main left-wing and centre-left parties.
His celebrity status meant he was elected MEP with a whopping 400,000 votes, catapulting him from Italian television screens to a new career at the European parliament.
Sassoli became head of the DP’s European group and briefly attempted to enter national politics as the party’s candidate in Rome’s mayoral primaries but was beaten by Ignazio Marino, who won the office.
Re-elected MEP in 2014, Sassoli became parliament’s vice-president in charge of the budget. His election as president of the European Parliament in 2019 meant Italy kept one of the three key European jobs, following the departure of European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
His arrival in the chamber was traditionally announced in Italian as “Il Presidente”. Unlike some EU officials, who speak in English and French in public appearances, Sassoli had made a point of using Italian.
Next Tuesday, MEPs are expected to hold the first round of voting for his successor.
In Albania, tributes poured in from across the political spectrum.
Prime Minister Edi Rama called him an “ardent advocate of Albania” and said his death would leave a significant void for anyone that had the honour and pleasure of knowing him.
President Ilir Meta offered his condolences and described Sassoli as “a tireless supporter of EU enlargement and Albania’s integration.”
Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha said Sassoli was a good friend of Albanians and a “sincere supporter of our national aspiration for European integration.” He also offered his deepest condolences to his family, friends, and associates.
The EU’s ambassador to Albania, Luigi Soreca, said the president was “always smiling” and was committed to protecting the rights of all.