Prove you are up to it EUs biggest challenges laid bare following death of key player

David Sassoli says European Parliament ‘will not fail’ in 2021

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European Parliament President David Sassoli, an Italian socialist and former journalist, died early on Tuesday in hospital in Italy, his spokesperson said. He was 65.  He had been president of the 705-seat parliament since July 2019 and his term in the predominantly ceremonial role had been due to end this month. Maltese lawmaker Roberta Metsola, from the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), is widely expected to succeed him.

“Sassoli was a symbol of balance, humanity and generosity. These qualities have always been recognised by all his colleagues, from every political quarter and every European country,” said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

His time leading the EU assembly was dominated by the coronavirus crisis and he was credited with introducing a remote voting system that allowed the parliament to keep operating even as much of Europe was forced into repeated lockdowns.

Warning of the EU, Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party (PD), Mr Sassoli’s political party, said the beloved European will be missed when the bloc will face new challenges.

Writing for Politico, he said: “While everything was closing and the whole of Europe was going into lockdown, while international travel and flights stopped and the lights of many institutions went out, David made a courageous and far-sighted choice that would make history.

“He chose to keep the Parliament open, making the institution a protagonist at a crucial moment, when the most natural thing would have been to go the other way.

“Under David’s watch, the Parliament innovated and continued to function remotely, thanks to the application of new technologies.

“It was a first in history, and a conscious and necessary choice, to continue making the voices of millions of citizens heard within the European institutions.

“‘Democracy cannot be suspended, especially in the midst of such a dramatic crisis,’ David said, as he opened the first remote Parliament session.

“Because David kept Parliament open, it became the protagonist in decisions that led to the birth of the NextGenerationEU recovery plan and a Europe of solidarity.

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“What would the European response to the pandemic have been like if it had remained closed? Certainly different, I am convinced.”

He continued: “David was very clear that Europe’s strength is realised in its ability to develop an institutional architecture centred on the values of democracy and solidarity, and therefore capable of reducing injustices and social inequalities.

“He called on European institutions to make greater efforts at guaranteeing protection and support to those who feel defeated by the epochal changes of the last decade.

“His sensitivity to this issue is the greatest political legacy that David leaves us. Faced with the challenges that still await us, we will all have to prove that we are up to it.”

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Sassoli contracted legionella pneumonia in September and he returned to hospital in December after suffering complications related to his immune system.

He had undergone a bone marrow transplant 10 years ago and he died in a cancer clinic in the northeastern town of Aviano.

Flags at EU institutions were lowered to half mast as praise for Sassoli poured in from across the political spectrum.

European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen, a conservative who secured Sassoli’s backing within the EU parliament despite coming from different camps, said she had lost a dear friend.

“Today is a sad day for Europe. Our union loses a passionate European, a sincere democrat and a good man,” she told reporters. “He wanted Europe to be more united, closer to its people, more faithful to our values. That’s his legacy.”

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