The European Parliament President and Italian social democrat, David Sassoli, has passed on at the age of 65, his spokesperson has confirmed.
"The @EP_President David Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano (PN), Italy, where he was hospitalized. The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours," Roberto Cuillo posted on Twitter.
The spokesperson had announced on Monday afternoon that Sassoli had been in hospital since December 26 "because of a serious complication due to a disfunction of the immune system" and that all official activities had been cancelled.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that she was "deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian". She described Sassoli as "a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend".
EU Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli a “sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness, and his smile".
The head of Sassoli's Democratic Party (PD) Enrico Letta called him "someone of extraordinary generosity, a passionate European” and a man of “vision and principles, theoretical and practical".
David Sassoli had been struggling for months with poor health. Having suffered in the past from leukaemia, he was struck by a severe case of pneumonia in September during a plenary session of the Parliament and had to be hospitalised.
He returned to Italy to recover but had a relapse that kept him away from his duties for a while. He was absent again in November after medical tests related to a case of Legionnaires' disease.
His condition improved enough to preside over a European Parliament session in December to give the EU's main human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to Alexei Navalny's daughter on behalf of the Kremlin critic.
Sassoli's mandate as head of the European Parliament was due to expire this month, halfway through the five-year legislative term which began in 2019.
"I am heartbroken. Europe has lost a leader, I have a lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion," said Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was already set to take over from Sassoli as president of the parliament next week.
She said Sassoli “dedicated his life to making the world a better, fairer place".