European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has announced plans that he says will offer a “swift, determined and comprehensive” response to Europe’s migrant crisis.
Under the proposals, 120,000 additional asylum seekers will be distributed among EU nations, with binding quotas.
It comes after a surge of thousands of mainly Syrian migrants pushed north through Europe in recent days.
Mr Juncker told the European Parliament it was “not a time to take fright”.
Germany, the main destination for many migrants, supports quotas, but some EU countries oppose a compulsory system.
There were more chaotic scenes on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, with migrants breaking through police lines at the Roszke camp, and forcing the closure of the M5 highway.
France welcomed the first of 1,000 migrants it has pledged to take from Germany, having committed to receive 24,000 migrants over two years.
Conditions were reported to be improving on the Greek holiday island of Lesbos, where thousands of migrants have now been screened and put aboard ferries to Athens in a new government drive.
In a separate development Australia, which has been under pressure to do more to help displaced people, has announced plans to take in 12,000 Syrian refugees.
Mr Juncker’s plans were set out in a “state of the union” annual address in which he outlined the priorities of the European Commission.
He was heckled by one MEP from the anti-European Union UKIP party, and retorted that his comments were “worthless” – but it later emerged that it was not UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as reported in an earlier version of this article, but David Coburn.
Mr Juncker opened his speech by admitting the European Union was “not in a good situation… There is a lack of Europe in this union, and a lack of union in this union”.
He said tackling the crisis was “a matter of humanity and human dignity”.
“It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery in the world. But we have to put it into perspective.
“This still represents just 0.11% of the EU population. In Lebanon refugees represent 25% of the population. And this in a country where people have only one fifth of the wealth we enjoy in the European Union. Who are we to never make such comparisons?”
Among Mr Juncker’s proposals:
- EU member states to accept their share of an additional 120,000 refugees, building upon proposed quotas to relocate 40,000 refugees which were set out in May (though governments then only actually agreed to take 32,000)
- A permanent relocation system to “deal with crisis situations more swiftly in the future”
- Commission to propose list of “safe countries” to which migrants would generally have to return
- Efforts to strengthen the EU’s common asylum system
- A review of the so-called Dublin system, which states that people must claim asylum in the state where they first enter the EU
- Better management of external borders and better legal channels for migration
“It’s 160,000 refugees in total that Europeans have to take into their arms and I really hope that this time everyone will be on board – no rhetoric, action is what is needed,” he told MEPs.
The proposals will be discussed by EU home affairs ministers on 14 September in Brussels.
The new plans would relocate 60% of those now in Italy, Greece and Hungary to Germany, France and Spain.
The numbers distributed to each country would depend on GDP, population, unemployment rate and asylum applications already processed.
Countries refusing to take in migrants could face financial penalties.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania have opposed the idea of mandatory quotas.
On Tuesday, though, Poland appeared to soften its position. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said the country would accept more migrants than the 2,000 it first offered to take.
Germany has welcomed Syrian migrants, waiving EU rules and saying it expects to deal with 800,000 asylum seekers this year alone – though not all will qualify as refugees and some will be sent back.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that Germany needed to learn from its mistakes in labelling incomers in the post-war period as “Gastarbeiter” or “guest workers” – with the implication that they were not permanent residents.
Many of the refugees it expects in future “will become new citizens of our country”, she said – and they should be integrated from the moment they arrive.
The mass migration has seen those seeking an end to persecution, conflict and hardship travel by boat, bus, train and on foot, from Turkey, across the sea to Greece, through Macedonia and Serbia, and then to Hungary from where they aim to reach Austria, Germany and Sweden.
A Hungarian TV camerawoman, Petra Laszlo, was sacked after being filmed apparently deliberately tripping up a male migrant carrying a child, and kicking another running child.
The two migrants who fell to the ground were among dozens fleeing police during a disturbance near a registration centre at Roszke.
A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.