EU Parliament president David Sassoli dies at 65

Catalan politicians pay tribute to late speaker

European Parliament president David Sassoli (by Natàlia Segura)
European Parliament president David Sassoli (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Brussels

January 11, 2022 09:32 AM

EU Parliament president David Sassoli has died aged 65 on Tuesday morning, his spokesperson Roberto Cuillo has confirmed.

The Italian journalist-turned-politician had been hospitalized since December 26 as a result of “a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system.”

“David Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano (PN), Italy, where he was hospitalized,” Cuillo tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday. “The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours.”

Sassoli, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, was named the chamber’s spokesperson in July 2019 and had been nearing the end of his term. His successor is set to be elected next week.

Tributes pour in 

Catalan politicians of all stripes have offered condolences following the news of Sassoli's death. 

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president at the time of the 2017 independence referendum who is currently an MEP for JxCat, described Sassoli as a “great democrat who served the best interests of Europe with honesty and courage.” 

Left-wing pro-independence Esquerra Republicana member Diana Riba, of the Greens–European Free Alliance, called him “honest, upstanding, and deeply committed.” “He has had to lead the institution during one of the most difficult moments in its history,” she tweeted. Catalan president Pere Aragonès, of the same party, said Sassoli “would always be remembered for his European, progressive and democratic commitment.”

Ciudadanos MEP Jordi Cañas, meanwhile, said he “deeply regretted” Sassoli’s death, calling it “very sad news.” 

“He was a good man and I will always remember how moved he was the day he was elected president,” anti-austerity Comuns MEP Ernest Urtasun tweeted.

The EU spokesperson for the conservative people’s party, Dolors Montserrat, said she was “deeply saddened and shocked by the loss of European Parliament president David Sassoli.”

“A prayer for the eternal rest of his soul,” far-right Vox MEP Jorge Buxadé tweeted. “Death is not the end.”

The head of the Catalan branch of the Socialist party and former Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, said “Europeans have lost a great president” who had “done everything to ensure we tackle the pandemic together.”

Sassoli a key figure in Catalan MEPs’ immunity

The late EU Parliament president was a key figure in the process of assessing the parliamentary immunity of exiled Catalan pro-independence MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, and Oriol Junqueras.

In fact, Junqueras appealed to the EU’s General Court on November 4, 2019, after Sassoli declared himself "not competent" to defend Junqueras' political immunity as an elected MEP.

However, on December 19, 2019, Sassoli called on the competent Spanish authorities to "align with" a European Court of Justice ruling stating that jailed pro-independence leader Oriol Junqueras enjoyed parliamentary immunity from the moment he was elected MEP on May 26.

Furthermore, Sassoli affirmed at the time that he would not "accept any challenge to the rules on this issue." Just weeks before announcing that the European Parliament endorsed on January 10, 2020, a ruling by Spain's Supreme Court and announced that jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras was no longer an MEP. 

The chamber, at the time, said Junqueras' mandate as an MEP "terminated with effect on 3 January 2020," when Spain's electoral board vetoed the jailed leader.

On the other hand, Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, and Clara Ponsatí are still in exile and are members of the European Parliament. Despite this, they do not have parliamentary immunity. 

On October 15, 2021, the EU chamber provisionally denied restoring Carles Puigdemont’s immunity after it was removed by their fellow MEPs.

The three politicians appealed the decision before the European General Court saying the rapporteur in their case was not impartial and there was a breach of confidentiality during MEPs' deliberations.