By Francesco Guarascio and Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission plans legislation by the end of the year that would oblige EU nations to share the burden of housing immigrants, with binding quotas based on criteria such as economic health and population.
The EU executive will ask member states by the end of this month to back an emergency relocation of refugees who have already arrived.
The relocation strategy is part of a wider overhaul of laws on migration, much of it in response to appeals from Italy and other southern EU states for help dealing with thousands of migrants reaching Europe by boat from North Africa.
The proposals, a draft of which Reuters has seen ahead of its planned release on Wednesday, have won the backing of France and some other countries, but they will require the support of all 28 member states, which is far from certain.
The plans have drawn criticism from a political grouping in the European Parliament dominated by British Prime Minister David Cameron's newly re-elected Conservatives, and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called them "mad".
The Commission aims to relocate migrants to other member states based on the size of a recipient's economy, its population, its unemployment rate and its past numbers of asylum seekers.
"The EU should not wait until the pressure is intolerable to act: the volumes of arrivals mean that the capacity of local reception and processing facilities is already stretched thin," the draft reads.
Asylum applications in the 28-nation bloc hit a record 600,000 last year.
The Commission says it wants to reduce the incentives for people to move to Europe and to crack down on trafficking gangs, including operations to destroy their vessels.
By the end of May, the Commission will also propose an EU-wide resettlement scheme that offers places to would-be immigrants currently living outside the EU. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has suggested that the EU offer 20,000 such places per year by 2020.
The legislation planned by the end of 2015 will in addition seek to attract highly-skilled migrants to alleviate anticipated labor shortages.
Responding to the Commission proposals, British Conservative Timothy Kirkhope, a member of the European Parliament and former UK immigration minister, said EU action should focus on saving lives and stabilizing the region.
Some countries should do more to help, he added, but in a spirit of solidarity, not because of a compulsory EU quota.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Francesco Guarascio)