A NEW session of the European Parliament opened in Strasbourg yesterday as more than 10,000 Catalans protested outside at Spain’s exclusion of three of their MEPs and the denial of the rights of representation of more than two million people who voted for them.

Former president Carles Puigdemont and ex-minister Toni Comin, who are both in exile, and former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, who remains in prison, could not take their seats at the parliament yesterday.

Spanish authorities would not allow Junqueras to take an oath to the constitution in Madrid and the others face arrest should they try to enter Spain.

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Alfred Bosch, Catalonia’s foreign affairs minister, said the exclusion of the three MEPs was a denial of voters’ rights: “We will not stop demanding that those who have been elected can be here representing European citizens.

He added that the demonstration proved the Catalan situation was not simply an internal matter for Spain, but one “that goes straight to the heart of what the European project is”.

Bosch stressed the missing MEPs had to play their part in the parliament, and that Junqueras was also a candidate for the European Commission presidency.

“He is in jail and they have not let him go to be here or to get the accreditation. He can’t even be here when there is a group of European political parties that defend him as a ‘spitzenkandidat’.”

He said their rights as MEPs should remain intact because they had not been convicted: “If they could stand for election, they should now be able to be here and enter the European Parliament to represent their voters.”

Puigdemont and Comin were initially expected to attend the Strasbourg protest, but instead addressed the crowd via videolink from just over the French border in Germany, fearing Spain could issue a further European arrest warrant for them should they enter French territory.

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“To correct the drift of repression, of regression, of democratic limitation of the predecessor presidency,” said Puigdemont.

“That they correct the drift that concerns the 500 million European citizens. They are in time to show that this is the quarter where Europeans want to be represented.

“Without respect for the vote of the citizen there is no democracy possible. You here are the proof of your failure, you are the proof of our success.”

Comin said Spain was afraid of the exiles: “Spain is afraid, but we are not. We, all the hundreds, the millions of citizens who have been mobilising for years, are not afraid.”

Inside the parliament, the formal session was disrupted as some MEPs refused to stand for the EU’s anthem – Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – while others, notably from the UK’s Brexit Party, turned their backs on proceedings.

Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy also demanded that the excluded Catalan MEPs be included in the session.

Normal proceedings resumed once the formal opening was over, with European leaders making another effort to overcome the embarrassing deadlock over job nominations to key posts. In one of the longest EU summits in recent years, they are trying to name a new president of the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, a president of the European Council and a foreign policy chief.