The tag line on David Sassoli’s Twitter account read, “President of the European Parliament and always, even more, one of you”.
One of the last giants of world politics took his last breath in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Fate would have it that David Sassoli would not reach the end of his mandate as President. His premature demise came a few days before he would relinquish the presidency in favour (probably) of Malta’s Roberta Metsola.
The whole of Europe mourned the passing away of this humble yet powerful Roman, Italian and European. During his stint as President of the representative institution of the EU he managed to touch many hearts due to his trademark political style thanks to which he rose head and shoulders above the rest of his peers.
Indeed, Europe must mourn this model Europeanist and above all ensure that the lessons he imparted in his lifetime are not lost.
The late President’s staff wrote a moving final post that highlighted the greatness of the man and the politician. Sassoli, grounded every action, every behaviour and every choice firmly in the human values of loyalty, coherence, education and respect. His staff wanted the strength of his lessons to remain in our memories: never pretend, never feed controversy, spirals, prejudices, gossip or pettiness.
Politicians who crossed his path during his lifetime were quick to point out the strong human element that drove this champion of the poor and marginalised. Sassoli exemplified the politician who regards politics as a service. Respect for institutional integrity was a hallmark of his political activity. Quoting another giant of Italian politics, Sassoli repeated that “institutional and moral unity are the two experiences that keep us together”.
His idea of politics as a service was reflected in his commitment to the fight against poverty, the battle for immigrant rights, his position in favour of minorities and for a greener future. Humanity was at the centre of his vision and, above all, he strongly believed that a strong democratic Europe could benefit all citizens. Famously he referred to the importance of trust in institutions that is a fundamental part of a working democracy.
His unfailing commitment to the bettering of the lives of the citizens of Europe is a running thread in his political activism. Speaking from the hospital where he was recovered right after Christmas, he delivered an impassioned plea to the citizens of Europe to continue to believe that poverty can be fought, that there is no place for marginalisation.
As a journalist in 1989, he had taken a chisel to the Berlin Wall and participated in the breaking down of an instrument of division. In his Christmas speech, he noted with sadness that some European nations are building new walls that create a division between “the rich and the poor, the moral and the immoral”.
A deep reassuring stare from his shining blue eyes accompanied his warm, calm demeanour with which he built bridges of dialogue instead of confrontation. A dedicated Europeanist, he would refuse to participate in a possible re-candidature for the Presidency, fearing that this would break down the “European majority”. His soft-spoken and kind manners were balanced with a strong set of values – uncompromised and uncompromisable.
“With David Sassoli, Europe and Italy lose a top-level institutional man, who believed in politics in its noblest sense, in a Europe that is a bulwark of rights and opportunities, in the commitment in favour of the weakest and most defenceless, in the fight against all forms of injustice and prevarication, always with a smile,” Sassoli’s staff said.
I mourn the loss of David Sassoli. These are days where controversy surrounds institutional reform in our own country. Days where it is becoming obvious that there is no real commitment to revolutionise the system to return it to the citizens and at their service. Prevarication and corruption have poisoned an already sick system and the false motions of reform only serve to remind us of the desperate situation in which we find ourselves.
When my daughter is old enough to understand, I will tell her the story of David Sassoli, the gentle journalist turned politician who calmly but resolutely tried to show a sick world the way of solidarity and service. I will tell her that this was the politics I had always hoped to see and that hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, we will once again see politicians with that warm smile and kind soul.