Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, described Sassoli, who had first been elected to the European parliament in 2009, as “a man of the institutions, a profound pro-European”.

The former journalist, whose three-year term as speaker of the chamber was due to end next week, had been admitted to hospital in Aviano, in his native Italy, on Boxing Day following a “dysfunction of his immune system”. He died at 1.15am on Tuesday.

In an address posted on social media three days before being hospitalised, Sassoli, a centre-left Italian Democrat, had spoken of his hope for the year to come but lamented the construction of walls that “block people who seek shelter”, in an apparent reference to the plight of refugees stuck between Poland and Belarus.

“Our challenge is to build a new world that respects people and nature and believes in a new economy based not just on the profits for the few but on well being for all,” Sassoli had said.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, tweeted in Italian: “I am deeply saddened by the death of a great European and Italian. Sassoli was a passionate journalist, an extraordinary president of the European parliament and above all a dear friend. My thoughts go out to his family. Rest in peace, dear David.”

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