Europe's migration system is broken, British Interior Minister Theresa May wrote on Sunday, blaming its borderless system for exacerbating a migrant crisis and demanding tighter European Union rules on free movement.
A surge in migrants fleeing war and poverty has presented Europe with its worst refugee crisis since World War Two and claimed the lives of thousands of people making perilous sea and land journeys to the continent.
Writing in The Sunday Times newspaper, May said the Schengen border code which eliminated systematic frontier controls across much of Europe, but which Britain is not part of, had fuelled the migrant crisis.
"The events of this summer have shown that the most tragic consequences of a broken European migration system have been borne by those at risk of exploitation," May wrote.
"As countries in Europe are increasingly realising, these tragedies have been exacerbated by the European system of no borders."
This week the bodies of 71 refugees, including a baby girl, were found in Austria inside an abandoned freezer truck and more than a hundred dead migrants washed ashore in Libya after an overcrowded boat sank on its way to Europe.
Some European governments are considering amending the Schengen code, but the European Commission, the EU executive which enforces it, insists it sees no need to change the rules, either to improve security or control migration.
"When it was first enshrined, free movement meant the freedom to move to a job, not the freedom to cross borders to look for work or claim benefits," May said. "We must take some big decisions, face down powerful interests and reinstate the original principle."
As an island nation off northwest Europe, Britain is far from the frontline of the EU-wide crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees pour into the bloc this year via countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary.
But migration is a politically sensitive topic. Data on Thursday showed annual net migration to Britain hit a record high of 330,000, causing political embarrassment for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who in 2010 promised to reduce it below 100,000.
Germany calls for fairer distribution
Germany and a handful of other European Union states cannot go on absorbing a disproportionate share of refugees arriving in the bloc and other members must do more, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
Germany expects the number of asylum seekers it receives to quadruple to about 800,000 this year.
Two state premiers said over the weekend the total could even hit 1 million in 2015.
“Germany and a few other countries are by far ... those that receive the most refugees,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference.
“With 28 European member states, that cannot remain the case on a continuing basis. There will have to be a fairer distribution of refugees, with more solidarity.”
Uniform EU rules on the anvil, says Italy
The European Union migrant crisis will eventually push the 28-nation bloc to adopt uniform rules for refugees and end a patchwork of norms that have exacerbated the emergency, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.
“It will take months, but we will have a single European policy on asylum.” Renzi said the EU needed to be more present in Africa and the Middle East to improve living conditions and discourage migration. It also needed to make it easier to repatriate those not granted refugee status. “This is the time to launch a political and diplomatic offensive,” he said.
France criticises eastern Europe’s “scandalous” policy
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused eastern European states, notably Hungary, on Sunday of a “scandalous” policy towards refugees going against the values of the European Union.
“With regard to all those people who are politically chased out of their country we have to be able to welcome them,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio.
“Every country has to respond to that. France, Germany, others have, but when I see certain countries that do not accept these groups, I find that scandalous.”
“In particular eastern European states. They are extremely harsh. Hungary is part of Europe, which has values and we do not respect those value by putting up fences,” Fabius said.
Hungary, which is part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to contain what it calls a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.
“Hungary is not respecting Europe’s common values so the European authorities need to have a serious discussions, even a stern discussion with its officials,” Fabius said.