Italy mourns the death of its former president Giorgio Napolitano. The former communist politician died on Friday evening at the age of 98 in a hospital in Rome. The parties in his home country showed him respect across all political boundaries. Napolitano was Italy’s head of state for eight and a half years – longer than anyone else. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier described him as an “extraordinary man, a European history book with a keen eye for realities.”

Napolitano was one of the defining figures of Italian post-war history. The former communist was the first president to be re-elected. He also enjoyed a high reputation internationally. The euro crisis also occurred during his years in office from 2006 to 2015. During this time he was the most important contact in Rome for many foreign governments. Due to his old age, he resigned early in January 2015. He spent the last few years in seclusion.


Italy’s current ultra-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her condolences to the widow Clio Napolitano and the other bereaved families. President Sergio Matterella praised his predecessor as the “guarantor of the values” of Italian society, who always carried out this task faithfully to the constitution and with high intelligence. The parties also paid him respect for his life’s work. Pope Francis praised Napolitano for his “great intellectual gifts.”

The future president was born in 1925 in the southern Italian city of Naples, which he represented as a member of parliament for ten legislative periods. The lawyer became a member of the Communist Party (PCI) at a young age, where he made it to the Politburo. For many years the PCI was considered the most important communist party in Western Europe. Napolitano was counted as part of the reform wing there.

Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he spoke out in favor of renaming the Communist Party, which then became the left-wing party PDS. In the 1990s, Napolitano was president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and then interior minister in a center-left government. In the meantime he also sat in the European Parliament. For his services he was awarded the title of senator for life.

In 2006, Napolitano became the first ex-communist to be elected president. Contrary to his own original plans, he ran for a second term in 2013. All efforts to find a successor had previously failed. For reasons of age, he announced his early retirement at the turn of the year 2014/15. With more than 3,000 days, he still holds the record for the longest term of office for an Italian president.

During his time in the Quirinal Palace – the seat of the head of state in Rome – Napolitano enjoyed high authority across party lines. He was often seen as a moral corrective to the populist Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had to resign in 2011. At that time, Napolitano paved the way for a government of experts. He was also considered an impartial and reliable conversation partner internationally.