Germany, France and Spain warned the European Union's head office Tuesday not to meddle in how they manage their borders, insisting it's a question of state sovereignty, even as the bloc's member nations debate how to tackle issues such as illegal immigration and crime.
The three-country statement came as the EU Commission prepared to present plans Friday to better manage the Schengen zone of borderless travel through much of Europe. The Schengen Agreement governing the zone is a legally binding treaty; 25 countries are currently members of the Schengen visa-free zone.
The Commission says its proposal would allow it to assess how member countries patrol the outer border of the visa-free zone, and to give financial and technical assistance to countries found to have deficiencies. Brussels could, if the deficiencies persisted, order checks instituted at a country's internal borders _ those national borders that lie within the visa-free zone.
But Germany, France and Spain fear the proposal would give Brussels too many powers over national borders if it could decide when and how disputes should be solved.
"Respecting the core area of national sovereignty is very important to the member states," the statement said.
In June, EU leaders agreed to set up new rules underpinning the principle of free travel throughout much of the continent after Italy, Denmark and France all took action to roll back visa-free travel.
Germany has been critical of neighbor Denmark's plans to reintroduce permanent customs controls at its borders in what it calls an attempt to fight crime. France and Italy were involved in a dispute over ways to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from northern Africa.
The two issues _ crime and illegal immigration _ have led to growing divisions among EU nations. Some claim the unrestricted travel has turned Europe into a vast playground for criminals and illegal immigrants.
According to the three countries' statement Tuesday, "The European Commission would assume responsibility for deciding whether to reintroduce temporary checks" at those borders of member states that lie inside the visa-free zone.
"We therefore do not share the European Commission's views on assuming responsibility for making decisions on operational measures in the security field," it said. "The Member States have the political responsibility for maintaining public order and protecting internal security."
EU leaders said in June that any reintroduction of national border controls _ which would undercut the borderless travel zone, one of the EU's signal achievments _ should only be done as a last resort.
Under the Commission's proposals, member countries would still have the option to institute border controls themselves in emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, but only for a few days. Afterward, it would go to a special panel of EU experts for further action.
Associated Press writer Don Melvin contributed to this story