AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Two centre-right parties agreed on Thursday to ban the burqa in the Netherlands as the price for parliamentary support from the anti-Islam Freedom party for their planned minority government.
The Netherlands would become the second European Union country to ban the burqa after France, in what many see as a shift to the right which has dented the bloc’s reputation for tolerance and may increase security risks.
The draft agreement tightens the rules on immigration and boosts the number of police officers in a concession to far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who is on trial for inciting hatred against Muslims.
In return Wilders would support the new coalition’s plans for 18 billion euros ($24 billion) in budget cuts and to bring the deficit within European Union limits by 2013.
“We want to stop the Islamisation (of the Netherlands),” Wilders told a news conference, adding that the measures would cut non-Western immigration by half.
His party made gains in a June election despite being seen as racist by many Dutch people, forcing the Christian Democrat and Liberal parties to turn to him for parliamentary support.
Christian Democrat political leader Maxime Verhagen defended the draft agreement, which has yet to be endorsed by his party.
“This cabinet will assure our freedom, for everybody and everybody in the same way — man, woman ... Christian or Muslim,” he said.
The pact still needs approval by a Christian Democrat (CDA) congress on Saturday after the party failed to resolve divisions on whether to rely on support from the Freedom Party during 15 hours of talks on Wednesday.
Prominent members of the CDA have spoken out against working with Wilders, but some now expect the CDA congress to approve the deal — even though the outcome is far from certain.
Prosecutors have opened a case against Wilders on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. His trial resumes on Monday.
Mustafa Ayrance, president of the Turkish Workers Union in the Netherlands, said minorities had suffered an enormous setback. Muslims make up about 6 percent, or 1 million of the 16 million Dutch population.
“I fear groups will turn against each other. The tensions in society will increase and we are not accustomed to that. Our country has room for everyone,” he told news agency ANP.
Under the proposals, the country would be able to bar entry to radical religious leaders, while convicted immigrants will be expelled more rapidly and immigrants will lose their temporary residence permit if they fail an integration exam.
“This cabinet aims to see a stronger Netherlands coming out of the recession,” Liberal leader and designated Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference.
The Liberal Party won most votes in the June election on an austerity platform that found wide acceptance among voters worried about an anaemic economy, a major pension problem and reverberations from the debt crisis in Greece.
But trade unions attacked the scale of the budget savings. Edith Snoey, head of largest public sector union Abkavabo, accepted there had to be cuts. “But that is not achieved by reckless destruction. This is unacceptable and downright arrogant. We will oppose it to the extreme,” she said.
If the coalition deal goes ahead, the Christian Democrats and Liberal Party would form the first minority government in the Netherlands since 1939.
Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis; Editing by Myra MacDonald/David Stamp