Protests mark opening of European Parliament

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Media captionBrexit Party MEPs turn backs on anthem

The European Parliament has re-opened in Strasbourg with an anti-EU protest by the UK’s Brexit Party and a demonstration by Catalan nationalists whose MEPs are barred.

The first session after Europe-wide elections in May began as EU leaders went into a third day of talks on who should fill the bloc’s top jobs.

Several leaders said they were optimistic of a breakthrough.

Italy and eastern states rejected an earlier compromise deal.

What happened at the Parliament?

Outside parliament, hundreds of Catalan protesters protested that three separatist figures were unable to take their seats, as inside the chamber fellow MEPs placed three photos of the missing members on their desks.

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Protesters waved pictures of ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, now in exile in Brussels

Ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and colleague Toni Comin were barred from taking their seats because they fled to Brussels after a banned referendum on independence went ahead and did not attend a swearing-in ceremony in Madrid as required. Another separatist leader, Oriol Junqueras is on trial in Spain and in detention.

Irish Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy warned that the parliament’s credibility would be undermined if it did not stand up for the voters of Catalonia.

As outgoing speaker Antonio Tajani convened the new session, MEPs rose for the EU’s anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. But not everyone stood, and anti-EU MEPs from the UK’s Brexit Party turned their backs on the rendition accompanied by a saxophone quartet.

“Rising to your feet is a matter of respect,” said Mr Tajani. “It does not mean that you necessarily share the views of the European Union. Even when you listen to the anthem of another country you rise to your feet.”

Their action came after party leader Nigel Farage promised a spirit of “cheerful defiance”.

Pro-EU Liberal Democrats staged their own stunt, wearing “Stop Brexit” T-shirts.

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Among the new intake was Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, 82

Will there be a summit deal?

EU leaders reconvened in Brussels for their third consecutive day after a reported compromise deal that would have seen Dutch Labour leader Frans Timmermans head the Commission with centre-right Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva taking the other key job of European Council president.

That deal fell apart when the four Visegrad states of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia blocked the plan, with the backing of Italy. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Mr Timmermans was “unacceptable” and a “total catastrophe”.

The initiative had been proposed by outgoing Council President Donald Tusk, who was seen heading for the talks with his mobile phone to his ear. It soon emerged that the talks had been delayed by two hours until 13:00 (11:00 GMT) as individual talks continued.

As Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte entered the Commission building, he said there had been lots of phone calls and text messages overnight and on Tuesday morning.

“I hope a majority will eventually be found for someone, in combination with how the other jobs will be filled,” he told reporters.

While Italy’s Giuseppe Conte said he would be very happy with a woman as Commission president, German’s Angela Merkel said everyone would “have to shift a little”.

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