Former Italian journalist David Sassoli, who was currently holding the office of president of the European Parliament, has passed away at the age of 65. His spokesperson Robert Cuillo conveyed the news on Twitter, writing that Mr. Sassoli had died at 1.15 am Jan. 11 at a hospital in Aviano, Italy.
Sassoli had been hospitalized for more than two weeks due to an immune system malfunction. The time and place for his funeral will be announced shortly, Cuillo added.
Cuillo, who announced the postponement of Sassoli's official duties on Monday, said the speaker has been hospitalized since December 26 owing to a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system. Last September, Sassoli was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia for multiple weeks.
After a three-decade career as an Italian journalist, beginning in newspapers and progressing to television, where he became a nationally recognized anchorman, the Florence-born Sassoli was elected to the European Parliament in 2009, and became the body's speaker in 2019.
He was a member of the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the parliament's second-largest grouping after the center-right European People's Party.
MEPs are likely to begin the first round of voting for his replacement on Tuesday next week.
Sassoli was known for taking up the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean and dissidents such as Alexei Navalny, who is taking on the Russian government from a jail cell.
EU Council President Charles Michel called him a sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter: I am deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European and proud Italian. David Sassoli was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first and foremost, a dear friend, she wrote. Rest in peace David, my dear friend.”
Sassoli successfully ran for the Central Italy district's seat in the 2009 European Parliament election and was elected vice-president of the European Parliament in 2014.
After he was re-elected in 2019, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats proposed Sassoli as the new candidate for the president for the European Parliament and he was elected on July 3 to succeed Antonio Tajani.
In taking the role, he became the seventh Italian to hold the office and his term was due to end this month.
Although often overshadowed by von der Leyen and Michel, Sassoli led an institution which has become ever more powerful over the years and has become instrumental in charting the course of the European Union in many sectors, be it the digital economy, climate or Brexit.
Sassoli was married to Alessandra Vittorini and leaves behind two children.