Interior ministers from the European Union's 27 member-countries rejected Thursday a proposal to grant the bloc's executive commission oversight over when national governments can reintroduce border controls.
Passport-free travel in much of the continent under the so-called Schengen agreement is considered one of the EU's signal achievements. The agreement, however, states that the individual countries can stop the free movement of people across their borders temporarily "if a serious threat to public order or domestic security exists."
As many European countries face economic crises, illegal migration from countries outside the Schengen zone has put strains on the agreement because countries within the region have been restrained from checking people's passports as they cross onto their soil.
The interior ministers met in Luxembourg on Thursday to consider the proposal by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, which would also give the European Parliament greater say over when and for how long the controls can be re-established.
France and Germany are among the nations that have long insisted that the union's 27 national governments must be in charge of those decisions.
"We are ready to act where (citizens') security is in danger," Germany's Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said.
Malmstroem said she was disappointed by the outcome of the meeting, but that negotiations on the issue would continue with the aim of getting "an EU-based mechanism."
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz also said he was disturbed by the national governments' rejection of the proposal.
"Free movement within an area without internal borders is a pillar of the European Union," he said. "The European Parliament will not accept any extra reason for reintroducing border controls without a proper ... mechanism to evaluate and monitor whether this is necessary or not."