David-Maria Sassoli died on Tuesday at a hospital in Aviano, Italy. He was an Italian reporter and former TV news anchor who went on to become a socialist politician and serve almost by accident as president of the European Parliament. He was 65.
Who is going to replace him?
Next week in Strasbourg, the Parliament will vote on who will replace him. Since September, he had been sick, including with pneumonia, and had been hospitalized several times, most recently on December 26.
His spokesman, Roberto Cuillo, said that he had died at about 1:15 a.m.
Sassoli had spent most of his two-and-a-half-year term guiding the Parliament through the difficult coronavirus pandemic, which shut down the Parliament’s buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg for a while and forced him and the Parliament’s staff to come up with new ways to work from home.
He also helped guide a tough negotiation over the EU’s long-term budget, which led to the creation of a historic €1.8 trillion budget-and-recovery package that includes both traditional funding and a level of joint debt that has never been seen before. On November 10, 2020, the Parliament and the Council of the EU reached a deal that made it possible for the 2021-2027 budget to be passed. Under the deal, the European Parliament got more money for things like the Horizon Europe research program and the popular Erasmus program for students to exchange places.
27 people are going to choose the next candidate
According to Sassoli, he was a surprise, last-minute choice for the Parliament presidency in July 2019. This was after the 27 heads of state and government in the EU chose a list of candidates for top jobs after the European election that year. This list included conservative Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president, liberal Charles Michel as Council president, and a social democrat leading the directly elected legislature.
Sassoli said that the 27 leaders had at first talked about Sergei Stanishev, a Bulgarian who is president of the Party of European Socialists, getting the job. This would have given the list more geographical diversity by including someone from Eastern Europe.
Stanishev, however, turned down the job, and the Parliament, sticking to the larger deal for leadership, chose Sassoli to take over from Antonio Tajani, who was also an Italian and a conservative.
As president of the Parliament, Sassoli was mostly a voice of peace. She worked to help von der Leyen, the first woman to lead the Commission, move forward with her plans, such as the ambitious European Green Deal to fight climate change.
As a result of the 2019 election, in which both the center-right conservatives and the center-left socialists lost seats, Sassoli had to deal with a three-party majority coalition, which was an extra challenge.