European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died Tuesday at the age of 65, was a former television journalist who turned to politics a decade earlier as a centre-left MEP.
Elected in 2019 as president, a role similar to that of speaker in a national parliament, his two-and-a-half-year mandate was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Good-natured Sassoli earned the parliament’s respect with his sense of organisation, the attention his team paid to teleworking, a remote voting system and his ability to resist French pressure to bring elected officials back to Strasbourg.
In a sign of solidarity during the pandemic, he made the deserted parliamentary premises, available to prepare meals for families in need and to test for Covid.
Health was his own Achilles heel, having recovered from leukaemia.
A heavy smoker, Sassoli was hospitalised in September 2021 due to pneumonia, which kept him away from parliament for several weeks.
On December 26, he was hospitalised again with “a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system”, according to his spokesman.
Born in Florence on May 30, 1956, Sassoli studied political science before starting work as a newspaper and news agency journalist.
The father of two began working for national broadcaster RAI in 1992, rising through the ranks to become a familiar face for millions of Italians, presenting the evening news on the main channel, of which he also became deputy-director.
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 and Euro-Mediterranean policy.
“While in charge of this policy, I represented the European parliament at numerous official occasions, developing dialogue with institutions in Mediterranean and Middle East countries,” Sassoli wrote on his webpage.
He was the joint author of the Sassoli-Dijksma European railway reform which liberalised rail travel in 2017 after three years of complex negotiations.
“I have not completely abandoned my journalist career, I still collaborate in an active way with various dailies and periodicals,” he wrote.
He co-wrote a book with Francesco Saverio Romano about the drama of cabinet meetings during the 1978 kidnap and murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro by far-left militants.
“If you put your trust in me, we will fight together for a parliament that is modern, more transparent, environmentally sound, accessible to citizens,” Sassoli promised fellow MEPs ahead of the vote on his nomination in 2019.
“Nothing is possible without people, nothing is durable without institutions,” he added, quoting one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet.
His election as president of the European Parliament in 2019 had meant Italy kept one of the three key European jobs, following the departure of European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.