Dutch coalition to target burqas, Muslim immigration
Anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders has emerged triumphant in Dutch coalition talks, with the new government to introduce a bill on banning the Muslim face veil and to try to halve the number of "non-Western" immigrants in the country.
The Netherlands' new "Freedom and responsibility" coalition formally includes just the Liberal Party (VVD) and the the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). But the 46-page-long coalition agreement by the minority government makes far-reaching concessions on burqas and immigration rules in order to be able to count on parliamentary support from Mr Wilders' PVV faction.
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Under the plans, immigrants already living in the Netherlands will face extra hurdles in bringing family members to the country and unskilled people will have even fewer chances of finding work and coming to settle. The coalition text also promises in writing to bring a burqa bill to parliament.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the VVD and CDA leaders on Thursday (30 September), Mr Wilders said "A new wind will blow in the Netherlands" and "We want the Islamisation to be stopped."
He also took a swipe at German Chancellor Angela Merkel who had earlier voiced "regret" at his potential role in The Hague. Speaking in broken German during the press conference, he said "Ms Merkel, you are not right," and told her to stop meddling in Dutch politics.
The four-year coalition deal could still be ditched by Christian Democrats at their party convention at the weekend.
The Wilders element is still controversial for some, even though the CDA itself supports a burqa ban. But Christian Democrat leader Maxime Verhagen on Thursday described it as a "very good governing agreement ... that every Christian Democrat will be able to identify with."
The VVD's Mark Rutte, who is likely to become prime minister next week, said his government wants "to give the country back to the working Dutch citizen."
Opposition leaders are angry at the concessions made to Mr Wilders.
"This is unmistakeably a Wilders' cabinet," said Femke Halsema, the leader of the Green party. "It is about repression and reducing ethnic minorities."
The head of the Liberal opposition party D66, Alexander Pechtold, described the "discriminatory measures" affecting immigrants as "bullying." The agreement will lead to economic stagnation, he said. "The bill is being passed on to the next generation."
France and Belgium are much further down the path to banning the full Islamic veil than the Netherlands. Only a tiny minority of Muslims in either of the three countries actually wear burqas.
EU budget cuts
While the part on immigration is the longest chapter of the coalition accord - seven out of 46 pages - the text also proposes other measures likely to unnerve Brussels.
The Dutch contribution to the EU budget is set to be slashed by €1 billion. Billions will also come out of Dutch international aid spending. The Netherlands is currently the biggest per-capita contributor to the EU budget, with some €8 billion a year, while Germany is the biggest net contributor.
Amsterdam has already made strict financial commitments to the EU up until the end of 2013 budgetary period.
But the EU is about to embark on talks for the 2014 to 2020 framework budget. EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandovski has already hinted that "a compensation mechanism" is needed for net contributors so that no country emerges as a "big loser."
Speaking on Tuesday in Brussels, he added that it is important EU contributions rest on sufficient public support. "We are of course conscious what is the mood in Dutch politics," he said.