European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says it was a serious error to have ended Italy's migrant search and rescue effort last year and to have left one country alone to bear the mission's costs.

Juncker told European Union lawmakers Wednesday that it was "a grave mistake."

The Italian emergency operation Mare Nostrum was phased out late last year. It was expensive and politically unpopular in Italy even though it plucked tens of thousands from the Mediterranean in 2013-2014.

An estimated 1,700 people have died so far this year fleeing war and poverty via conflict-torn Libya for a better life in Europe.

EU leaders pledged last week to double the equipment and triple the budget of the European border agency mission in the Mediterranean.