European interior ministers have agreed that countries should be allowed to close their borders when they deem it necessary. That puts them at odds with Brussels, which wants to have the final say in such decisions.
European Union interior ministers have reached an agreement that would allow countries in the border-free Schengen zone to re-introduce border controls in emergencies that are deemed to threaten a country's security.
A key change that the agreement reached at a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday would bring is that for the first time, an influx of immigrants would be defined as just such an emergency.
The interior ministers also agreed that member states themselves should still be the ones to make such decisions.
However this is far from a done deal, as the changes must be passed by the European Parliament for them to come into force and the 27-member bloc's legislative body has already indicated it will oppose them in their current form.
Europeans demand bigger say
Both the legislature and the European Commission are demanding changes, which would, among other things give it a say in deciding when a country can introduce border controls.
European Home Affairs Commissioner Celcilia Malmstrom used the micro-blogging website Twitter to express her criticism of the deal.
"Disappointed by lack of European ambition among member states," she said.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who along with his French counterpart, had spearheaded the drive for the changes, rejected the suggestion that they would mark a step backward for the EU.
"I think it (the proposal) is very good, because it strengthens Europe, but at the same time leaves the ultimate responsibility with the member states," Friedrich said.
Arab Spring leaves its mark
The proposed changes to the Schengen Agreement, which established rules for border controls in 1985, had been in the works for months. They were prompted by the arrival of numerous refugees from North Africa when the Arab Spring revolutions began last year.
Greecein particular has been overwhelmed by an influx of illegal immigrants crossing into its territory from Turkey.
"The situation on the Greek-Turkish border shows that we need a very clear modus operandi here in the Schengen area," said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Miki-Leitner on Thursday.
The Schengen Agreement, which was signed in the Luxembourg town that gave it its name, did away with border controls between signatory states in Europe. The first border stations were dismantled in 1995. All but five European Union countries are now party to the agreement as are non-EU members Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
Under the current rules, a member state can impose border controls for up to 30 days to cope with a specific security risk such a sporting event or a high-level international political conference. Poland, for example, is to impose border controls during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament in an effort to prevent hooligans from travelling to the event.
ncy,pfd/mz (dpa, AFP, DAPD)