International migration should be subject to the same kind of international regulation as air pollution, the former head of the European Commission said yesterday. 

'Migration is the least regulated phenomenon in the world,' Jose Manuel Barroso (pictured) told the opening session of the International Bar Association in Vienna. 'It is obvious today that regulation at the national level is not enough.' 

He said that nation states had accepted the need for international regulation to deal with climate change and the financial crisis. 'When implementing post-crisis financial regulations it was always about ensuring a level playing field, so the same common principles should apply,' Barroso said. 

He acknowledged that 'some very strong member states' would not want to lose control of their borders. 

Answering questions from the audience he said that Europe needs more migrants because of demographic pressures and that it is less expensive to invest in migrants' education and assimilation now 'than to pay for the consequences later'. He condemned the failure of Middle Eastern governments, with the exception of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, to accept refugees from Syria. 

Barroso left the commission in 2014. His two terms in office coincided with the financial crisis and included numerous spats with the UK government, including warnings that David Cameron's promise to cap the number of immigrants would not conform to European law.

Questioned about the possibility of the UK leaving the EU, he said Britain's membership is 'very important for Europe' – and was confident that 'the British people would not vote against their own interests.'