European Parliament president Sassoli dies at age 65

BRUSSELS: David Sassoli, an Italian journalist who worked his way up in politics while defending the downtrodden and repressed to become president of the European Unions parliament, died at a hospital in Italy early on Tuesday. He was 65.

European Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli a sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.

Sassoli, a socialist, had been hospitalized since Dec 26 because of abnormal functioning of his immune system, Cuillo said in a statement released the day before Sassoli’s death.

Sassoli had been struggling for months with poor health after he suffered pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria in September. His health steadily declined afterward and he was forced to miss several important legislative meetings. Yet, as much as possible, he stayed on the job, where his vigor and easy smile had always been a trademark. He was at his strongest when he took up the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean or dissidents such as Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is taking on the Kremlin from a jail cell.

Everyone loved his smile and his kindness, yet he knew how to fight for what he believed in, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, reminiscing how a much younger Sassoli had traveled to Germany to see the infamous Berlin Wall come down well over three decades ago.

European unity was his benchmark, just as much as justice among all Europeans was.

Our Union has lost at the same time an Italian patriot, a great European and a tireless humanist, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Over the past few months, he improved enough to preside over a European Parliament session in December to give the EUs main human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to Navalny’s daughter. High in symbolism, it showed him at his best. A few weeks later, his wishes for the new year became his political testament as an optimist with great expectations.

We can be that hope when we don’t ignore those in need. When we don’t build walls on our borders. When we fight all forms of injustice. Here’s to us, here’s to hope, he said in the address.

He is survived by his wife, Alessandra Vittorini, and his children, Livia and Giulio. Flags flew half-staff and the European Parliament opened a condolences register. The European Commission will hold a minute of silence when it meets on Wednesday.

Pope Francis, who received Sassoli in audience last year, sent an unusually heartfelt telegram of condolences to Sassoli’s wife, paying tribute to him as an animated believer of hope and charity … who, in a peaceful and respectful way, worked for the common good with a generous commitment.

A lifelong fan of Fiorentina football club, he emulated the refined style of the team where Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Baggio thrived.