“I keep telling everyone that I have always done what I had to do. Europe, and its reform, is a duty, especially for us Italians”. That’s what David Sassoli said last spring about his appointment and presidency to the European Parliament, on a sunny Sunday morning in Piazza Navona in Rome. It’s how he envisioned his mandate in politics. He passed away last night in Aviano, in the Oncology Reference Centre (CRO). He had been fighting a very private war with the illness for some years and had won some of its battles.
Elected president of the European Parliament two and a half years ago, his term of office was due to end next week. Sassoli was not a professional politician. He dedicated the first years of his working life to journalism. First with news agency Asca, then with the newspaper Il Giorno, he then moved to television, becoming a newsreader for TG3 and then TG1. He made the leap in 2009 when he joined the Democratic Party (PD). He was elected member of the European Parliament having won a newcomer record of over 400,000 votes. And at a time when in Italy Silvio Berlusconi was throwing his weight around and winning votes.
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After his professional work as a journalist, his political career has been mostly in Europe. In 2013, he ran as mayor of Rome. He entered the centre-left primaries and ended in second place, behind senator Ignazio Marino. But he made it the following year, being re-elected with more or less the same number of votes to the Strasbourg Parliament. He was re-elected for a third time in 2019 and chosen to preside over the chamber.
He was the candidate for the so-called “Ursula majority”, which brought together Socialists and Popular. And that in Italy included the 5Star Movement. The “Ursula majority” coalition had supported Ursula von der Leyen as head of the European Commission. His relationship with the president of the Commission in the past 30 months has always been good. Indeed, it has been a guarantee for the good functioning of the European institutions, that constantly make decisions through the triangle Commission-Council-Parliament. As often happens with European institutions, the 2019 agreement foresaw a mid-term handover to a member of the Popular Party. European Socialists would have liked him to stay on and in December they made no secret of it, but finally gave up in the tug-of-war with the EPP. “What matters is not what I will do,” Sassoli used to say, “because I do what I have to do.”
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In his inauguration speech he said: “Europe is not an accident of history”. At that time the EU was feeling the pressure of anti-Europeans, a disruptive tendency. “In recent months,” he recalled, “too many people have wagered on the demise of that project, fuelling divisions and conflicts that we regarded as belonging to a dark period in our history.”
What happened shortly after was a kind of redemption for the Union and the European Parliament. Even the Conference on the Future of Europe was a sort of revenge for the pro-Europeans, and Sassoli played a key role in its creation. The Conference is aimed at making the Union more efficient. “You see,” he said on the eve of its inauguration, “we must try to make this body faster. This is our first attempt and probably not the last, but we have to do it.” As he often said of himself: “I plant and hoe”.
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Last June, shortly before his meeting with Pope Francis, sitting in front of a coffee in the Strasbourg Parliament Cafe, he confided: “This is not a routine conversation. With this Pontiff it is never routine. Discussing Europe with him is one of the most important things that I will ever do”.
Translated by Luis E. Moriones
Link to the Italian version
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