Frans Timmermans, the socialist candidate for the EU's top job, told Euronews that political predators were taking advantage of the so-called migration crisis.
"The problem arises from the time in 2015 and 2016 when clearly we were not in control of the crisis. Since then we have taken steps to regain control of the crisis. We're not there yet but we're getting there," Timmermans said.
"The only thing is that now political predators are preying on the fact that people feel that we can't get in control of this and playing identity politics, saying these people don't belong here, they are a threat to us and we need to stand firm against that," Timmermans continued.
"We need to remain a safe haven for real refugees but we also need to say to people who don't have the right to asylum that they need to return to their places of origin," he said.
Timmermans is among those hoping to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission after May’s elections.
Euronews is hosting a series of interviews with candidates from across the political spectrum.
On Thursday (April 25), Euronews spoke to Green candidate Ska Keller. Coming up next are Violeta Tomic, candidate of the Left (April 30), Guy Verhofstadt, representing the Liberals (May 13) and Jan Zahradil from the Conservatives (May 14).