BRUSSELS — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday called on EU countries to agree by next week to share 160,000 refugees, warning that Greece, Italy and Hungary can no longer cope alone.
In an impassioned appeal at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Juncker unveiled a list of new proposals to help Europe confront its biggest refugee emergency since World War II.
"The refugee crisis will not simply go away," Juncker told EU lawmakers, noting that some 500,000 migrants have entered Europe this year, many from conflict-torn Syria and Libya. "It is high time to act."
"We are fighting against Islamic State, why are we not ready to accept those who are fleeing Islamic State?" he said.
Some nations criticized the new proposal even before it was made public, and its chances of success hang in the balance because a solid majority of the 28 EU states must support the move for it to enter force.
Juncker's new plan involves sharing 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary among 22 member states, on top of a proposal the EU's executive made in May to share 40,000 refugees from just Greece and Italy. Britain, Ireland and Denmark are not legally bound to take part. Greece, Italy and Hungary of course are not included.
Hungary estimates that more than 160,000 people have crossed its borders alone this year, and the latest proposals were drawn up as Budapest began building an anti-migrant fence on its border with Serbia. Tens of thousands of people have entered in recent months, many cramming into buses and trains bound for Germany.
Despite the urgency, the EU's first refugee plan never won full support, and only around 32,000 refugees have been allocated. Hungary was among the countries to reject it, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
Juncker wants both plans endorsed on Monday at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels. "This has to be done in a compulsory way," he said.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the new plan and also called for it to be made compulsory.
"We need a binding agreement on a binding distribution of refugees among all member states, according to fair criteria," Merkel said. Germany has taken in more migrants than any other EU country, and would have to accept more than 31,000 more under the scheme.
On Monday, France threw its weight behind the EU plan by saying that it would take in 24,000 refugees this year, exactly the figure proposed in the new scheme.
Britain, which is not taking part, announced separately that it would welcome up to 20,000 refugees currently in countries outside of the EU over the next five years. Ireland is also taking 520 refugees from camps outside Europe.
This new response marks a shift to rapid humanitarian action as the EU begins to accept that longer-term policy moves are ill-adapted to the scale of the refugee emergency.
But it only accounts for a fraction of the people seeking better lives in Europe. The EU estimates that two in three migrants arriving are fleeing conflict and would probably qualify for international protection. Those coming in search of jobs alone are likely to be sent back home.
Juncker noted that the numbers arriving account for just 0.11 percent of the EU's half billion population. In contrast, refugees make up a quarter of Lebanon's population.
To help ease the burden on European migrant-screening facilities, Juncker also announced a list of "safe countries" including Albania and Kosovo, from which thousands of people have fled this year.
The "safe country" tag is likely to mean that few asylum applications by nationals from those countries will succeed.
The full "safe" list is made up of candidates for EU membership or countries hoping to join. They are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.
Almost 50,000 people from Kosovo applied for asylum in the EU in the first three months of this year. More than 21,000 did so in Germany.
More than 9,000 Albanians sought asylum in July, mostly in Germany, Sweden and France.
Longer-term, the Commission also unveiled a plan to set up a 1.8 billion-euro ($2 billion) fund to help African nations better manage their borders and help reduce the number of migrants heading for Europe.
The money would focus on northern Africa and Horn of Africa countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Around 100,000 migrants have been rescued so far this year crossing the central Mediterranean from northern Africa.
Juncker appealed to all 28 member states to match the Commission's ambitions by providing funds of their own.