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EuropeSpeech by President Charles Michel at the ceremony in honour of David...

Speech by President Charles Michel at the ceremony in honour of David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament

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President of the European Parliament,

It is with this address to you, dear David, that all speeches from this podium have begun for the past two and and a half years. In this temple of European democracy, where you displayed your intelligence, your vitality, for 15 years. And as we speak to you again this evening, we all very much wish that you could be here with us. As President of the European Parliament, you naturally inspired respect. But it was about more than your position. It was respect for you as a person. Warm, straightforward, authentic, smiling, and firm when it was necessary to control the meeting.

This evening we have gathered to pay tribute to the President of the European Parliament, to a political leader, to a proud European, but first of all we bid farewell to the man. David Sassoli is above all a son. A father. A husband. A brother. A friend. A colleague. I would like to solemnly, warmly and affectionately express my sympathy and condolences to his wife, to his children, to his mother, to all his family, and to all those in whose lives his passing has left a sudden and painful void. We wish we could carry even a little of your pain for you, Madam.

A politician is a man or woman whose true nature, whose character, but also whose career and life experiences, shape a destiny.

The first meeting with them often leaves an indelible memory. I remember my first meeting with David Sassoli. From the outset, I was impressed by his relaxed and generous attitude, entirely focused on others, and then his friendly face with its trademark smile. And your smile didn’t lie, David: it was the reflection of your soul. It was a reflection of your sincere and strong beliefs. It reflected your strengths and doubts. Mario Monti had the right words a few days ago, which I would like to quote here: ‘Ordinary people, as well as policy makers, saw in David Sassoli a way of participating in politics which is not cynical, or Machiavellian, or twisted, or incomprehensible, which was not essentially self-serving.’ And this brand, this signature, David, was summed up perfectly by your son a few days ago in Rome: ‘David Sassoli was a person of strong ideas and gentle ways.’

And yes, you had strong beliefs, and they defined your commitments. First, as a journalist. To inform is to put yourself at the service of an ideal; it is to shed light on the world, so that citizens can understand it better so that they can use that understanding to exercise their rights and freedoms with dignity and responsibility. As a journalist, you carried out your profession with passion and an elegance that has left an indelible mark on millions of Italian viewers and citizens.

And then there is the other source of your commitment, which your loved ones knew about before it gradually set the path of your political action, and that is the ideals of social justice and solidarity. You flew the flag for these ideals. But more than that: you also took concrete action. For example, your decisions as President of the Parliament to open the doors of this building to help the most disadvantaged, especially women, during the pandemic.

David, our cooperation and the time we spent together have left me with precious memories. Moments that show that compassion is a strength and never a weakness. Moments that show that you constantly strove to bring us together to look to the future as one. To generate new ideas for the benefit of Europe.

I am sure that, like me, Ursula remembers your initiative to hold a meeting in January 2020, in Bazoche in France, at the home of Jean Monnet, to discuss and prepare together for the challenges of the European legislature ahead of us. I especially remember the dinner in that family dining room, where you created an atmosphere of collaboration, enthusiasm and generosity, but also the shared awareness of the power of our European democratic values. That evening I got to know you, I discovered a genuinely engaging person, who held steadfast to his values and was so committed to the sense of compromise that forges European unity. And though we didn’t know it then, it is those qualities that proved so useful and so valuable a few months later, when it came to mobilising us to adopt the European budget and recovery plan.

We also faced the implementation of Brexit with you. And it was together, at a press conference in Brussels, that we decided to symbolically mark that Brexit day with our shared determination to advance the European project for the benefit of all citizens. Today, we can acknowledge that it wasn’t easy to turn this political setback into a moment of optimism. David Sassoli had the perfect impassioned words to defend our European project. Words that came from the heart. Words that captivate the audience, that make them stand up straight and hold their heads high. Words that make people want to go faster and further. David, you said – and this is so true – that if authoritarian powers criticise or attack Europe, it is because our democracy, our freedoms, our values scare them. If it works for us here, it can work elsewhere too. The European values of freedom and democracy are existential threats to autocrats around the world. And on that day, I saw how the smiling and caring David Sassoli could also turn into a passionate orator, a true lion of European democracy.

Nor do I forget the times – some of them public, some in private – when David proudly delivered his messages and those of the European Parliament without fear of inconveniencing or even contradicting the opinions or decisions of the Heads of State or Government. One example is at the conference in Bled, in Slovenia, last September, in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul. Causing a rustle and a stir in the front row, you sharply criticised the governments which had been too cautious on migration issues for your liking. And there I saw David Sassoli, still with a smile on his face but fighting, his gaze piercing, his words uncompromising.

Lastly, just a month ago, on 16 December, we were together at the same table at the European Council meeting. In line with tradition, and with your usual friendly warmth, you started the work by presenting the Parliament’s positions on the topics on the agenda. And I feel touched and moved when I think back to that moment and reread the speech. Because you told us – was this a premonition? – that you wanted to go beyond matters of current concern and talk about the renewal of the European project. Today I see that as a kind of political will and testament. You wanted, and I quote, ‘a new project of hope – hope for Europe – a project that embodies our Union, our values and our civilisation’. And specifically you proposed that the following 9 May should see a major demonstration of our strong commitment to this project.

David, you are gone. It is now up to us to be faithful to the commitment you made – and here I quote you again: ‘It is now up to us to make those visions a reality so that Europe can keep its standing, and its promises, in the service of all Europeans’.

David, you have played your part, and indeed more than that, in helping Europe keep its standing. You have kept your standing as a man, you have kept your standing as a citizen, you have kept your standing as a political leader strongly committed to our common values. You are gone, David. But a part of you remains with each and every one of us. We are inspired by your example.

Thank you, President. Thank you, David. Rest in peace.

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