BRUSSELS • The European Parliament began its first session of the new term yesterday, short of three Catalan members who were barred from joining, as hundreds wearing the Catalan flag protested against their exclusion outside the building in Strasbourg.
Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comin and Oriol Junqueras have not been able to take their seats in Strasbourg as the Spanish government has not recognised them as members of the Parliament after elections in May.
Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comin have lived in self-imposed exile since warrants were issued for their arrest in Spain after a failed bid for secession for Catalonia. Mr Junqueras, imprisoned in Spain, was not allowed to leave jail to take the pledge. The trio were left off Spain's list of members, which numbered 51 rather than 54.
The Catalan controversy was not the only one to affect the Parliament's opening session.
Twenty-nine members of Britain's Brexit Party turned their backs as the European Union anthem - Beethoven's Ode to Joy - was played live at the opening ceremony.
Mr Nigel Farage's party, launched in April, swept to victory in the European Parliament election in Britain a month later, riding a wave of public anger over Prime Minister Theresa May's failure to take Britain out of the EU on time.
From the other end of Britain's political spectrum, several lawmakers from the strongly pro-EU Liberal Democrat Party wore yellow T-shirts marked "Stop Brexit" and "Bollocks to Brexit".
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron sought to break a deadlock over assigning the EU's top jobs by proposing France's Ms Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, to lead the European Central Bank, diplomatic sources said.
In his proposal yesterday, made to tired EU leaders on the third day of arm-wrestling over who will next hold the bloc's top posts, Mr Macron also proposed German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen to become president of the European Commission.
The leaders are trying to balance political affiliations, the varying interests of different regions, and an acute lack of women in senior ranks as they seek to fill five top jobs which will become vacant later this year.
"Things are going smoothly now," one source said of discussions on Mr Macron's proposal.
The marathon talks have underlined the growing fragmentation in the 28-nation EU.
In a sign of a fresh push for compromise, the start of the leaders' talks yesterday was delayed repeatedly to allow more time for separate consultations.
"Everyone has to understand that they have to shift a little," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. "I say that to everyone. Then there will be a chance of reaching a deal."