In memoriam David Sassoli

, by Antonio Argenziano, Jacopo Barbati

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

In memoriam David Sassoli
President Sassoli signs the 2020 Budget. Credits:European Parliament from EU, CC BY 2.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of people visited the funeral chamber prepared for President Sassoli in Campidoglio, Rome. He has been a beloved person and symbol for people, above and beyond his institutional role, as a symbol of the best kind of politics.

In 2009, David Sassoli, anchorman and deputy director of TG1 (the main newscast of RAI, Italy’s state-owned TV and radio agency), decided to run for the European Parliament elections of that same year.

Sassoli was a pleasantly familiar figure for most Italians at that time, thanks to his good-looking appearance and his calm and reassuring display on video. Why did he choose to leave this for something as divisive as only politics (and maybe football) can be?

Because, despite his love of journalism, he clearly felt the urge to serve civil society through politics at a certain point of his life. Born in 1956 in Florence, he spent the majority of his life in Rome, where he did classical studies at high school to then enrol in the faculty of Political Science at ’La Sapienza’ University. He then started working as a journalist - his father was a journalist, too - and the passion for his job did not let him get as far as graduation.

But alongside his profession, of course, his passion for politics and civic activism was already there. In the 1980s he started his life-long involvement in AGESCI, the Italian Catholic scouts movement, and has always been connected with those experiences and those values. The spirit of service and the willingness to “try and leave this world a little better than you found it” have always accompanied him.

In 1992 he became a TV journalist, covering news on the Sicilian Mafia terror attacks of the time, as well as the Mani Pulite investigation, events that marked the end of the so-called First Republic. At the end of that decade, in 1999, he started working for TG1.

Back to 2009, when he was first elected as Member of the European Parliament with the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, PD) as one of the most voted candidates in Italy with more than 400 thousand in favour of him.

Before the elections, he stated that he would have committed the rest of his life to politics anyway, as he thought that in anyone’s life there should be time to take care of the community. His priorities during his first campaign were: to give more power to the European Parliament; improve measures against climate change; increase scholarships for students, and getting Italy to invest more on research thanks to EU support. [1]

He quickly proved that he was not just a journalist “loaned” to politics; during his first mandate at the EP he was the head of the PD delegation, and after a failed attempt to run as Rome’s mayor, he was confirmed as MEP in the EP elections of 2014, being also appointed as one of the EP’s Vice-Presidents. He was then confirmed into the VP role in 2017 and elected for a third mandate as MEP in 2019.

10 years after being elected as an MEP for the first time and 20 years after his first experience at TG1, David Sassoli, the former journalist, became the President of the European Parliament; and during his settlement speech, he underlined how the EU should have regained the “spirit of the founding fathers, the spirit of Ventotene”, because “relaunching the integration process” was the only way forward to answer the citizens’ demands. [2]

During his mandate as MEP, he stayed coherent with the promises of his 2009 campaign: he fought to put the EP at the centre of decision-making in the EU, even asking for a legal proceeding against the Commission for having failed to apply the rule of law conditionality mechanism [3] and was not afraid to criticise the Council [4] [5]. Under his presidency the EP passed a resolution calling the climate change a “global emergency” [6]. He also condemned proposed cuts to research and Erasmus in the Multiannual Financial Framework as “not acceptable” [7].

And, above all, in his way, he was also coherent with his calls to find the “spirit of Ventotene” back and to strive for a federal Europe. In 2016, while the EU was going to face one of the deepest moments of crisis, he was not afraid to say with strength that fighting for a better Europe, achieving the “United State of Europe” was the task of our generation, and through the years he acted accordingly. During the pandemic, the EP had a crucial role in keeping the funds of the Next Generation EU program within the EU budget, and fighting for the increase of the income of EU-owned resources - the first steps towards a proper federal budget, the greatest advancement of EU integration in years.

He achieved all this while never losing focus on the citizens: one of Sassoli’s priorities was making EU institutions and the people of the EU closer; by relaunching the Conference on the Future of Europe that seemed to be out of sight due to the pandemic; working for enlargement; and finally promoting the founding values of the EU of peace and solidarity in several occasions, during the pandemic, during the Afghan crisis, and beyond.

He was a fighter, but ultimately he lost against the illness. And we lost him, a human being, with his strengths and weaknesses like all human beings, but with an inspiring commitment that should motivate all of us to fight for better politics, a better future, and also a better EU.

“Try and leave this world a little better than you found it” Robert Baden-Powell used to say, and he continued: “and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best”.

Yes, Mr. President, you have done your best.

Buona strada, David.

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