The European Commission president said he would never attend a meeting like this again
Jean-Claude Juncker has described the European Parliament as "totally ridiculous" after most MEPs failed to show up for a debate on the EU presidency.
This sparked a heated exchange with Antonio Tajani, the president of the EU Parliament.
Mr Juncker, president of the European Commission, said he wanted to welcome the 30-odd MEPs "who have actually taken the trouble to turn out" and said the low attendance showed the parliament, which has more than 700 members, was not "serious".
The debate was about the Maltese presidency of the European Council, which recently ended.
Mr Juncker said he was sure there would have been a "full house" of MEPs if it had been a debate about the presidency of a larger nation such as France or Germany.
When Mr Tajani urged him to adopt a "more respectful attitude" and pointed out that the "commission does not control the parliament", Mr Juncker refused to back down.
He said: "There are only a few members in the plenary to control the commission, you are ridiculous."
As Mr Juncker attempted to continue speaking, Mr Tajani again angrily interrupted him and urged the former prime minister of Luxembourg to "change your language".
"I will never again attend a meeting of this kind," Mr Juncker shot back.
"The commission is under the control of the parliament but the parliament has to respect even the presidencies of smaller countries, which is what the parliament is not doing."
Although many MEPs were not in the chamber, that does not mean they were not in the parliament building itself.
They must register when they vote in order to get their daily allowance, and by the afternoon almost 700 had done so.