David Sassoli: the journalist, the true socialist politician

European Parliament President David Sassoli has died at the age of 65. The Italian former journalist and centre-left politician had been seriously ill for more than two weeks and cancelled all official activities. He was admitted to hospital in Italy last month due to a serious complication with his immune system, and again last night. He died in the early hours of Tuesday in a hospital in Aviano.

A vote to elect his replacement had already been planned for later this month, and Sassoli had indicated that he would not seek re-election.

The former television newsreader became president of the 705-seat European Parliament in July 2019.

Born in Florence in 1956, David Sassoli is the son of Domenico Sassoli, a journalist and intellectual of Catholic culture.

His youth training was part of the tradition of democratic Catholicism which has had personalities such as Aldo Moro, Giorgio La Pira, Sergio Mattarella, Romano Prodi and Paolo Giuntella as major exponents. Under the impulse of the latter, Sassoli became involved in the Ros Bianca, an association of political culture that brought together groups of young people from Catholic associations.

In the 1980s he actively participated in the experience of the Democratic League, a political reflection group led by Pietro Scoppola, Achille Ardigò, Paolo Prodi, Roberto Ruffilli.

He was married to Alessandra Vittorini, and father of two children (Livia and Giulio). An ardent Fiorentina fan and had a passion for classical music.

The Journalist

Sassoli began his journalistic career by collaborating with small newspapers and news agencies. He witnessed and reported a meeting in Paris destined to cause a stir between the then socialist minister Gianni De Michelis and the political refugee of Potere Operaio, Oreste Scalzone. In 1985 he began to collaborate with the Roman editorial staff of the daily ‘Il Giorno’, where he followed the main political and news events for seven years. During this period, he was a direct witness of some fundamental historical events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

He had been registered with the professional journalists association since July 3, 1986, and was one of the founders of ‘Article 21’, a movement for the defence of freedom of the press.

Radio and television

His career as a television journalist began in 1992 as a news correspondent on TG3. In the same period he collaborated with the journalist Michele Santoro in the programmes ‘Il rosso e il nero’ and ‘Tempo reale’.

In 1996 he hosted the afternoon broadcast ‘Cronaca in Diretta’, on Rai 2. In 1999 he joined the editorial staff of TG1 as a special correspondent.

In that same year he was entrusted with the management of the daily ‘Prima’ on TG1 and at the end of the season, he became the host of TG1 for the 13:30 edition and then the 8:00 pm edition news programmes.

In 2007, when Gianni Riotta was appointed the new director of TG1, Sassoli became deputy director of the news programme, as well as of the special in-depth weeklies TG1 and Tv7. In 2004 he was elected President of the Roman Press Association.

I want to devote the rest of my life to politics – David Sassoli

The Politician

David Sassoli’s entry into politics coincides with the European Parliament elections in June 2009, when the Democratic Party nominated him on the proposal of Secretary Dario Franceschini as leader in the constituency of central Italy. With 405,967 preferences, he was the first elected in the central Italy constituency and was among the most voted in Italy.

Also thanks to the excellent result of the elections, he became leader of the PD in the European Parliament. In an interview, he made it known that he intended to “devote the rest of his life to politics”.

During the seventh legislature, he was a member of the Transport and Tourism Committee and Rapporteur of the proposal on the Single European Sky. He was also a member of the EU-Israel interparliamentary delegation.

On April 7, 2013, Sassoli was a candidate in the primary of the Democratic Party for the elections for mayor of Rome. He got second place with 28% of the votes, ahead of Paolo Gentiloni, but behind the winner and future mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino.

2014 European elections

In 2014 he ran again in the European elections with the PD in the constituency of central Italy and was elected Vice-President of the European Parliament with 393 votes, resulting in the second most voted in the PD-PSE share, with responsibility for Mediterranean Policy, Budget and Heritage.

In January 2017 he was reconfirmed as Vice President with 377 votes.

In this legislature he was the author of the most important railway reform law of the Union (IV Railway Package), concluded after three years of complex negotiations. The main purpose of the reform was the opening of the high-speed market. All railway companies will be able to participate in tenders on high-speed routes in any member state.

In 2017, in the Transport Committee, he played a decisive role in blocking the first proposal on the Mobility Package and thus guaranteeing greater safety for road hauliers and compliance with the competition rules for road transport.

During the legislature, moreover, his attention to Euro-Mediterranean policy and to issues relating to budget matters is remembered. As Vice-President responsible for Euro-Mediterranean policy, he represented the European Parliament on numerous official occasions, developing and intensifying a dialogue with the institutions of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.

At the end of a long negotiation for the assignment of the EURO-MED Secretariat, he was the promoter of his assignment in the city of Rome. He was part, in May 2018, of the European Union election mission in Lebanon.

Regarding budget matters, he waged a battle for a more efficient Parliament, promoting transparency and traceability of expenditure, more effective reporting of MEPs’ activities and bidding for Parliament’s services. He was a member of the EU-Serbia Delegation and since 2016 President of the Europe-Albania Friendship Group. He ran in the 2019 European elections with the PD in the constituency of central Italy.

The President

On  July 3, 2019, he was elected President of the European Parliament, with 345 votes, on the second ballot, with the support of pro-European groups. During his inauguration speech, he stressed how the constituent spirit of the Union must be recovered and relaunched and reminded the Council of the European Union of the need to listen to Parliament.

As the first act of his presidency, he decided to pay tribute to all victims of terrorism in Europe by visiting the Maalbeek metro station, one of the sites of the 2016 Brussels attacks.

He served as President during the unprecedented challenges faced by COVID-19, where most of Parliament’s work had to be shifted online.

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