The president of the European Parliament David Sassoli has died at the age of 65, his spokesperson announced.
Robert Cuillo announced the news on Twitter, writing that Mr Sassoli passed away at 1:15am on 11 January at a hospital in Aviano, Italy.
He had been there since 26 December “because of a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system”, his office announced on Monday.
Mr Sassoli had been struggling with poor health for months but carried on working.
He was known for taking up the cause of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean and dissidents such as Alexei Navalny, who is taking on the Russian government from a jail cell.
EU Council President Charles Michel called him a “sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness and his smile.”
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter: “I am deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European and proud Italian.
“David Sassoli was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first and foremost, a dear friend.”
In a follow up tweet she wrote: “Rest in peace David, my dear friend.”
Mr Sassoli was born in Florence, Italy and in 2009, he left a career in journalism to become a member of the centre-left Democratic Party.
He successfully ran for the Central Italy district’s seat in the 2009 European Parliament election and was elected as the vice-president of the European Parliament in 2014.
After he was re-elected in 2019, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats proposed Mr Sassoli as the new candidate for the president for the European Parliament and he was elected on 3 July, succeeding Antonio Tajani.
In taking the role, he became the seventh Italian to hold the office and his term was due to end this month.
Even if he was often overshadowed by Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel, Mr Sassoli led an institution which has become ever more powerful over the years and has become instrumental in charting the course of the European Union in many sectors, be it the digital economy, climate or Brexit.
Mr Sassoli was married to Alessandra Vittorini and leaves behind two children.
He was initially hospitalised in Strasbourg in September 2021 with pneumonia and missed the EU’s State of Union.