from a TV journalist to the head of the European Parliament

European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died on Tuesday, was a former Italian television journalist who turned to politics in 2009

ROME – European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died Tuesday at the age of 65, was a former TV journalist who turned to politics a decade earlier as a centre-left MP.

Elected president in 2019, a role similar to that of speaker in a national parliament, his two-and-a-half-year mandate has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The good-natured Sassoli earned Parliament’s respect with his sense of organization, the attention his team devoted to teleworking, a remote voting system and his ability to withstand French pressure to bring elected officials back to Strasbourg.

As a show of solidarity during the pandemic, he made the abandoned Parliament buildings available to cook meals for families in need and to test for Covid.

Health was his own Achilles heel after recovering from leukemia.

A heavy smoker, Sassoli was hospitalized in September 2021 with pneumonia that kept him out of Parliament for several weeks.

On December 26, he was hospitalized again with “a serious complication of immune system dysfunction,” according to his spokesman.

Sassoli was born in Florence on May 30, 1956 and studied political science before working as a journalist for newspapers and news agencies.

The father of two started working for national broadcaster RAI in 1992 and rose through the ranks to become a familiar face to millions of Italians, presenting the evening news on the main channel, of which he became deputy director.

– “Without people nothing works” –

In 2009, Sassoli joined the Democratic Party, founded by the former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni from the union of the two main left and centre-left parties.

His celebrity status meant he was elected MEP by a whopping 400,000 votes, catapulting him from Italian television screens to a new career in the European Parliament.

Sassoli became head of the DP’s European group and briefly attempted to break into national politics as the party’s candidate in the Rome mayoral primaries, but was defeated by Ignazio Marino, who won the post.

Sassoli was re-elected MEP in 2014 and became vice-president of Parliament, responsible for the budget and Euro-Mediterranean policy.

“While in charge of this policy, I represented the European Parliament on numerous official occasions and developed dialogue with institutions in the Mediterranean and Middle East countries,” Sassoli wrote on his website.

He was a co-author of the Sassoli-Dijksma European railway reform, which liberalized rail transport in 2017 after three years of complex negotiations.

“I haven’t completely given up my journalism career, I’m still actively collaborating with various dailies and magazines,” he wrote.

He has co-authored a book with Francesco Saverio Romano about the drama of the cabinet meetings during the 1978 kidnapping and assassination of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by militant left-wing extremists.

“If you put your trust in me, we will fight together for a modern, more transparent, more environmentally friendly and accessible parliament for citizens,” Sassoli promised his MPs ahead of the vote on his nomination in 2019.

“Nothing is possible without people, nothing is permanent without institutions,” he added, quoting one of the founding fathers of the EU, Jean Monnet.

His election as President of the European Parliament in 2019 had seen Italy retain one of Europe’s top three jobs following the departure of European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

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