Speaking in Berlin on Saturday, van Rompuy warned against fear of immigration among EU populations and defended the EU's open borders.
"Populism and nationalism cannot provide the answer to the challenges of our time," he said, urging member states to maintain a freedom of movement that he called a "sign of civilization."
There are two million available jobs yet at the same time a high unemployment rate in many EU countries, van Rompuy said while delivering a speech on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
He added that just 3 percent of EU citizens live in another EU country, saying there is "too little mobility" in the bloc.
Van Rompuy also lamented the increasingly negative attitudes towards minorities. France and some eastern European countries have been criticized for their deportation of Roma and Sinti – a practice that has increased with the help of nationalist political parties.
"The prejudices against other EU citizens are growing in an alarming fashion," he said.
The EU leader said migrant tragedies such as the two recent shipwrecks that claimed more than 400 lives off the Italian island of Lampedusa should be tackled at the root of the problem in the countries of origin and transit countries.
This way, a "Post-Wall Europe" could be built and the EU could become a "homeland" for its citizens, he said.
EU asylum concerns
Van Rompuy admitted that the complexities of migration issues were often misrepresented in the media and that illegal immigration was indeed a problem. However, he suggested that asylum policy in the EU could use some reform.
Van Rompuy said that there were only 300,000 asylum applications in the EU per year, of which a third are recognized – making up just 200 asylum seekers per 1 million residents. Three-quarters of asylum applications went to just five countries – Germany, France, Britain, Sweden and Belgium.
He also specifically mentioned the bloc's acceptance of refugees from the Syrian civil war. So far the EU has only taken in 40,000 of the more than 2 million refugees created by Syria's conflict.
"I hope these numbers make a few discussions somewhat more nuanced," he said.
dr/slk (dpa, Reuters)