Pope Francis has urged Europe to "tear down" the walls being built to keep out refugees and to create a radical new "social economy" serving the many not the few.

Invoking the memory of the European Union's founding fathers' pursuit of integration in the aftermath of World War II, the pontiff on Friday said they inspired because they had "dared to change radically the models" that had led to war.

Saying he dreamed of a Europe in which "being a migrant is not a crime", Francis said: "Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls."

The comments came in a speech at the Vatican following the 79-year-old pontiff's presentation with the EU's Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unification.

Having unexpectedly decided to accept the award, Francis delivered a typically hard-hitting message to an audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the EU's main institutions, the Council, the Commission, the Parliament and its central bank.

'What has happened to you?'

"What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?" he asked.

"What has happened to you, Europe, the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters?"

Borrowing a phrase from writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, the Argentinian pontiff said Europe needed a "memory transfusion" to free itself from the temptation of "quick and easy short-term political gains."

And after that reference to the migrant crisis, Francis went on to say Europe had to fundamentally change its economic model.

"If we want to rethink our society, we need to create dignified and well-paying jobs, especially for our young people."

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Source: AFP