Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Protestors mark opening of European Parliament

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LONDON: 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.

A plan emerged on Tuesday to nominate German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president.

Ms Von der Leyen is being considered for the top job, while Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is being considered for the key role of president of the European Council, according to German website Die Welt and other reports.

Christine Lagarde is being cited as a possible new head of the European Central Bank. The French head of the International Monetary Fund served as economy minister during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency.

What happened at the parliament?

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

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

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, accompanied by a saxophone quartet. But not everyone stood, and anti-EU MEPs from the UK’s Brexit Party turned their backs on the rendition.

“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”.

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