Europeans are in a state of shock today, mourning the death of David Maria Sassoli, ‘the good president’.
A picture circulated on social media this morning shows a thirty-two-year-old Sassoli with a hammer and a pickaxe trying to knock down a small portion of the Berlin wall.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wanted to remind everyone how David Sassoli was among those young Europeans who came to Berlin in 1989 when the Wall came down.
Speaking of that event, Sassoli said in 2019 that he remembered well “the irrepressible happiness, the hugs, the tears,” but also the “deep-seated awareness in all of us that we were living in a unique and unrepeatable moment in history”.
It is not surprising knowing that a true European and fervent federalist – as recalled by EURACTIV.it editor Roberto Castaldi in his opinion piece – was among those who bore witness to such an historic moment that helped to build a good thing by symbolically destroying a bad one.
This picture may seem so distant from the amicable and peaceful figure of Sassoli, the Parliament president, but ask anyone who has been in contact with him, and they will probably say they were impressed by his kind manners. He was often described as a gentleman – in terms of goodness and generosity toward others.
This morning, many people conveyed their condolences, most of them not just words of courtesy and circumstance.
This grief is genuine, as it has been noted: before being a politician, good or bad, he was first and foremost regarded as a decent man.
His kindness and purity of spirit were a product of his good nature. In this sense, he is reminiscent of Pope John XXIII, who has also been affectionately referred to as ‘il Papa Buono’, the Good Pope.
Recently, he had become particularly concerned about new walls that have been built in Europe.
“In some cases, our borders have become lines between right and wrong, between human and inhumane. These walls block people who are seeking shelter from the cold, from hunger, war and poverty,” he said in his last message wishing a merry Christmas to all EU citizens.
And he actually moved from words to deeds, as he decided to open the doors of the European Parliament building to house 100 homeless women who had been victims of domestic abuse and were affected by COVID restrictions in 2020.
“Christmas is the time when hope is born, and we can be that hope when we don’t ignore those in need. When we don’t build walls on our borders, when we fight all forms of injustice,” he said in his last message.
But one thing that truly stands out in his career as a journalist and a politician is some immunity to the temptations of power, as, throughout his life, he reached top posts in both fields.
In Italy, he was not just a journalist: he was the anchor of the evening newscast for the national broadcaster, the familiar face that many people – including me – had dinner with every night.
Still, he remained humble and friendly, with no trace of arrogance even when he became president of a top EU institution.
This lack of pomposity contributed to a likeable personality, while his indifference to power made him a truly free man – a rare quality these days.
“Our challenge is to build a new world that respects people and nature and believes in a new economy based not just on profits for a few but on well-being for all,” he said in his last message – one of the most progressive things a politician can say.
He would have finished his term next week and would have lived a life as president Emeritus, sharing his passion, his joie de vivre, and goodness with everyone.
All of this, and the man himself, will be sorely missed.
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With David Sassoli, we have lost a great president of the European Parliament and a personality who is part of the Italian pro-European tradition, writes Roberto Castaldi.
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- Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders participates via videoconference in a colloquium organised in the context of the French Presidency.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Alice Taylor /Zoran Radosavljevic]