If countries in Eastern Europe continued to refuse solidarity on migration, borders would be back in Europe sooner or later where they did not belong, PES candidate for European President Frans Timmermans said during a debate between the lead hopefuls on Wednesday.

This, he said, would be to the detriment of every citizen in Europe. “We need to prevent that, we need solidarity.” Solidarity, he said, was not just on things one liked but also on things one did not like.

Asked about migration, Mr Timmermans said that every time someone died in the Mediterranean Europe lost a bit of its soul.

“We’re losing who we are by not solving this problem. Once there are people on boats in the Mediterranean we have to take care of these people and one shouldn’t put fines on fishermen or people on boats who rescue these people, like the Italian government is doing.”

He said people had to be prevented from getting on those boats and agreed with EPP candidate Manfred Weber, who spoke earlier and called for a Marshall plan for Africa, that a huge plan was needed for the continent.

Mr Weber (EPP) said there was no doubt that a European solution was needed.

States, and not smugglers, had to control who was arriving in Europe and Europe needed to win back control of its borders. He called for the immediate establishment of a Frontex Office, resettlement for Syrian refugees, and a Commissioner for migration. The commission, he said, had to prioritise on these themes.

Greens candidate Ska Keller said her party clearly stood for European and shared responsibility. Communities that were doing a lot to welcome people in need also had to be supported.

What was happening in the Mediterranean was unacceptable, she said.

“We know were these people are…” They were calling, Italy picked up the phone and asked them to call Libya and Libya was not answering. European search and rescue efforts were needed. “We should not allow any single person to die in the Mediterranean.”

Margrethe Vesteger (Alde) said a long term stable solution had to be treated with the same urgency as saving lives at sea as migration was here to stay.

Europeans wanted to protect people in need of protection. A common asylum system and common solidarity was needed.

Jan Zahradil (Acre) said the mandatory quota system had not worked and had deepened the divide between Europe’s north and south. The sovereign rights of Parliaments and governments to grant or not to grant asylum, permanent settlement or even citizenship had to be respected.

“What we have to do is to fight human trafficking and smuggling and outsource reception centres to outside EU… conduct readmission agreements with other countries… stabilise the situation in Africa.”

Nico Cue (EL) spoke on the importance that the European Union took responsibility when it came to migration.