David Sassoli: A champion of European ideals

Following the sad news of the death of David Sassoli, Brian Johnson looks back at an interview with him that highlighted his compassion and unyielding commitment to democracy and the European project.
Strasbourg, 03/07/2019, David-Maria Sassoli is elected President of the European Parliament | Photo credit: Nuno Pinto Fernandes / Global Images/Sipa USA

By Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of The Parliament Magazine

11 Jan 2022

“Europe has lost a leader, I have lost a friend [and] democracy has lost a champion” — Roberta Metsola

The unexpected death of European Parliament President David Sassoli at 65 has sent shock waves through the EU institutions, with many, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, mourning the loss of a "passionate European, a sincere democrat, and a good man".

As the news emerged on social media, almost all tributes focused on Sassoli’s strong commitment to the European project, with Irish EPP Group MEP Frances Fitzgerald speaking for many when she said; “We have lost a true champion of the European ideals of peace & democracy. He will leave an important legacy for this Parliament and for Europe”.

Another common theme was the Italian’s genuine compassion and affection for both his colleagues and ordinary citizens, with many EU policymakers calling the former journalist their ‘friend’.

Former EU Council President Donald Tusk took to twitter to say: “You will always stay in my memory as a great European, a patriot and my good friend”, while Socialist Group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe García Pérez, wrote that Sassoli was, “a passionate and committed European and a really warm-hearted person”.

Indeed, Sassoli’s compassion and commitment to democracy, the rule of law and equality came through clearly when we interviewed him shortly after the COVID-19 crisis broke. He told then-Parliament Magazine Deputy Editor Lorna Hutchinson that he was determined to ensure that European democracy would continue to thrive through the pandemic.

As the news emerged on social media, almost all tributes focussed on Sassoli’s strong commitment to the European project, with Irish EPP Group MEP Frances Fitzgerald speaking for many when she said; “We have lost a true champion of the European ideals of peace & democracy"

“When the crisis struck, my first priority as European Parliament President was to ensure that the core functions of the Parliament could continue,” he explained.  “The EU must be a space for genuine participation, not just the crude defence of national interests. The Parliament, as the only directly elected European institution, needs to be at the heart of that.”

“Europe must come out of this crisis with our freedoms, values, and democracies intact.”

Anticipating the potential threat to the rule of law and democratic institutions that the COVID-19 crisis could create, he warned; “If governments use this as an opportunity to undermine the democratic values that our Union is based on then the European Commission, as guardian of the EU treaties, must act. The EU has a duty to act whenever its founding values are under threat in any Member State.”

While Member States came under fire for their perceived lack of solidarity when the crisis first hit, closing borders and disrupting medical supply chains, Sassoli focussed on how the EU institutions had acted to correct national decisions and unblock the free movement of vital medical equipment and drugs.

“[The blocking of internal markets and closing of borders by some Member States] were corrected by the EU institutions. However, we are in a constant battle over narratives,” he explained.

“There are those who want to blame everything on the EU, who will attempt to use this crisis to spread anti-European sentiment. To counter this, we must be clear about what Europe has done to help in the face of the emergency and show that the EU can take decisive action, in the medium to long-term, to help all countries recover from this crisis.”

Early in the crisis, the European Parliament made some of its buildings available to cater for homeless people and the most vulnerable, an action Sassoli fully supported, saying: “We want to support those who are suffering and to do what we can to help the cities that welcome us and need help today. Europe’s strength is in its ability to show solidarity”

He was clear on what the ‘decisive action’ should be, arguing that; “Nice words and platitudes about solidarity are not enough; we need to show that the EU can act together and be decisive in dealing with the pandemic and the economic fallout. Acting in a unified way in moments of crisis is how the EU will show its worth to all its citizens.”

Early in the crisis, the European Parliament made some of its buildings available to cater for homeless people and the most vulnerable, an action Sassoli fully supported.

“Of course, the main way we can contribute as the European Parliament to tackle COVID-19 is by continuing to function, voting on essential measures, and continuing to provide democratic scrutiny of the decisions that are taken.”

“However, we also wanted to do something to help the cities that host us. We have made our buildings available to host 100 vulnerable women and our kitchens are making more than 1000 meals a day for health workers and those in need.”

“We want to support those who are suffering and to do what we can to help the cities that welcome us and need help today. Europe’s strength is in its ability to show solidarity.”

You can read the full David Sassoli interview here

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