In speeches brimming with references to how Europe has overcome challenges, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel appealed for cooperation in facing the migration crisis. The EU cannot afford to wall itself off, they said.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday appealed to EU parliamentarians for the need to work together to deal with the hundreds of thousands of desperate people fleeing war and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in Europe.
Speaking first, Hollande acknowledged the bloc had been slow to grasp the situation of the refugees.
"I acknowledge freely, that Europe was slow in understanding that tragedy in the Middle East or in Africa could not be without consequence for Europe itself," he said.
However, he asserted that what was needed to solve the problem was "more Europe," not less.
Echoing Hollande's statements, Merkel said European nations had to act together.
"We must not fall prey to an inclination to want to act nationally on these matters," she said. "We must, to the contrary, act together."
Both emphasized the need for the EU to work on resolving the issues which were causing people to flee their homes, especially the war in Syria and power vacuum in Libya, but also the situation in Turkey which is both a host country for millions of refugees and a key gateway to Europe for people migrating.
"It is in Turkey that the refugees, as much as possible, must be given reception. In return we must provide Turkey with assistance if they are helping us and ensure that these refugees, whether they are in camps or in the population, are able to work to feed their children and have a hope for the future themselves. If we fail to do that, then of course they are going to inevitably come here," Hollande said.
EU member states have squabbled over how to deal with the thousands of people coming in. Hungary has built a fence on its border to try and stop them. Merkel told the European lawmakers that the bloc couldn't shut itself off.
"Sealing and cordoning yourself off in the age of the Internet is an illusion," she said. "No problem would be solved; additional and serious problems would arise."
Under the so-called Dublin regulations, people seeking asylum in the EU are supposed to do so in the first EU country they arrive in - but during the summer most people have refused to register in economically struggling Greece and have headed overland to wealthier member states, particularly Germany.
"We have to be frank, the Dublin procedure in its current form is obsolete in practice…when it has faced the challenges of the current situation on our external orders it has not proven itself viable," Merkel said, calling instead for a "new approach" based on "fairness and solidarity" when it came to relocating refugees within the bloc.
Speaking about Syria, Hollande advocated a political solution and said what happened there would determine the balance of power in the region for a long time.
"If we let the recent religious confrontations between Shiites and Sunnis get worse then don't think that we won't be affected. It will be a total war, a war that will also affect our territories, and we must act," he said.
Merkel and Hollande's speech was the first such address to the European Parliament by the leaders of Germany and France in 26 years.
Both drew parallels to the situation in Europe in November 1989 when then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand spoke together just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"It showed us, and shows us, what is possible," Merkel said.
Both leaders mentioned the EU-wide cooperation on the Ukraine crisis and keeping Greece in the eurozone as examples of what the bloc was capable of achieving when it came to working towards solving major problems.
"We are stronger together than we are separate," Merkel added.