A solemn yet heart-warming ceremony for European Parliament’s late president David Sassoli brought together leaders of Member States and of the European institutions, parliamentary political group representatives as well as Sassoli’s wife and children.
“Europe lost a leader, democracy has lost a champion and we all have lost a friend,” said Roberta Metsola, ad-interim president and, since Tuesday, newly elected president of the European Parliament.
Sassoli was “of great vision and great conviction, both as a man and as a politician”, she added. “This parliament, your parliament, thanks you for everything you’ve done.”
Through the many speeches, Sassoli’s values were remembered – his love for people, his devotion to European citizens, promotion of European values and his role of building bridges between groups.
His colleagues warmly recalled his brightest moments and achievements as a leader. Sassoli’s response to the pandemic was one of those, Enrico Letta, Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party and former Italian Prime Minister and MEP reminded us, that when hospitals and ICUs were under impossible strain, Sassoli arranged for the Parliament put its drivers and cars at the disposal of medical staff, allowing them to reach people at home.
"Europe lost a leader, democracy has lost a champion and we all have lost a friend" - Roberta Metsola, new European Parliament President
The Parliament buildings were hosting victims of gender-based violence and domestic abuse as well as the homeless. “He was open to citizens and close to their needs,” Letta said.
Sassoli’s humanism was put forward as he fought for the rights of immigrants, minorities, workers and youth. He placed importance on participatory democracy, exemplified by his launching of the Conference of the Future of Europe in 2021.
Letta emphasised that “making the Conference of Europe a success would be best way to honour David’s memory.”
“David, you naturally inspired respect, and that went far beyond your function,” said European Council President Charles Michel. He also praised David Sassoli’s “warm, authentic, smiling” personality.
Enrico Letta's speech in tribute of David Sassoli. Photo by Daina Le Lardic via EP Audiovisual.
To President Michel, Sassoli represented “a way of participating in political life which is not cynical, not Machiavellian, or devious” but rather genuine and cooperative.
European Commission leader Ursula von Leyen was not able to join the ceremony due to a Covid-19 contact and honoured the tribute with a Tweet with her holding a white rose, a symbol of resistance taken from a German anti-Nazi youth group during WWII the late president had admired, which also graced the seats in the hemicycle in Strasbourg.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to “a man of rare kindness, whose smile, vision and ideals were wide enough for a continent”.
He emphasised “the heart and ambition” that David Sassoli showed throughout the pandemic crisis, during which he presented to Europe “friendship and exemplary behaviour” in his leadership. He was “both an organiser and a peacemaker” in his position, as “he confronted ideas, never people”, President Macron said.
The leader of the S&D group Iratxe García Pérez said that “the best tribute we can pay him is to continue his legacy: build a social Europe, and a migration policy that puts people at its centre, to work together to bring about the Europe he devoted his life to.”
Manfred Weber, leader of Parliament’s EPP group said that Sassoli’s “home was Italy, but his destiny was Europe”, and paid tribute to his respect for the history and diversity of Europe.
Photo by Philippe Buissin via EP Audiovisual.
Renew Group’s Dacian Cioloş said in his speech that “David loved people and people loved David.” His lesson from the man he paid his homage to is that “best decisions are taken through the heart”.
Even political adversaries, such as Raffaele Fitto, the ECR Group co-chair, appreciated Sassoli’s “dense and deep competence” and recognised how he “laid the groundwork for future challenges”.
Many condolences were sent out to Sassoli’s family who are mourning his untimely death. Among the guests were also Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi, and several EU national parliaments’ speakers also attended.
The ceremony was wrapped up with a string quartet plus soprano performance of Europe’s national anthem to honour David Sassoli’s lasting mark on the European Parliament and on Europe.