Nearly 700 refugees are feared dead after their boat capsized off the coast of Italy, raising this year's death toll to nearly 1500 migrants who have drowned trying to enter Europe through the Mediterranean.
European parliament president Martin Schulz said the news had left him "speechless" and asked, "how many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe? How many times more do we want to express our dismay, only to then move on to our daily routine?"
He added, "words of grief are not enough. We cannot continue like this. Every day we sit idly by […] we burden ourselves with more blame".
Last week, around 400 refugees were thought to have drowned off the coast of Libya, prompting MEPs to blame the EU for its lack of a clear strategy on migration. So far, Italy has had to bear the brunt of the rescue efforts with its Mare Nostrum programme. Last November, a Frontex joint operation called Triton was introduced, but member states' participation is not mandatory.
As a commission communication explained, "Triton will rely on human and technical resources made available by the participating member states" and is "intended to support the Italian efforts, and does not replace or substitute Italian obligations in monitoring and surveying the Schengen external borders".
"Words of grief are not enough. We cannot continue like this. Every day we sit idly by […] we burden ourselves with more blame" - Martin Schulz
Essentially, Italy is required to carry out search and rescue missions on its own, and may request assistance from other member state vessels that happen to be passing by. The monthly budget for Triton is around €2.9m.
For Martin Schulz, "Europe can do more and Europe must do more. It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions".
The German deputy warned that "without a genuine common European approach based on solidarity, which offers people the opportunity to come to Europe legally and which places hope instead of despair, the next tragedy is only a matter of time".
And while MEPs have unanimously called for action to be taken, they do not seem to agree on whether responsibility lies with the EU or with the individual member states.
EPP group chair Manfred Weber stressed, "the commission and the EU member states immediately need to take action after this new tragedy".
Gianni Pittella, chair of parliament's S&D group, said, "the deafening silence of so many member states is an embarrassment for Europe".
He urged governments to "put their selfishness aside. The hypocrisy must stop - the responsibility for this tragedy does not lie with the EU but with individual European governments; and some more than others".
Yet Pittella also called on "an immediate extraordinary European council summit to establish once and for all a European Mare Nostrum operation - there is no alternative".
ALDE group president Guy Verhofstadt said, "Europe should be ashamed. This won't be the worst or the last disaster in the Mediterranean unless we set up a real European asylum and migration policy".
As EU foreign ministers prepare to hold an emergency meeting in Luxembourg, the commission highlighted that "the EU as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act".
The college announced that it was "currently consulting with member states, European agencies and international organisations in order to prepare a new European migration strategy, which will be adopted by the commission in mid-May".
An official communication explained that "for as long as there is war and hardship in our neighbourhood near and far, people will continue to seek a safe haven on European shores. And as long as countries of origin and transit do not take action to prevent these desperate trips, people will continue to put their lives at risk. That is why a large part of the approach we are working on is going to be about working with third countries".