Dutch "burqa ban" may go after government falls

Amsterdam, the Netherlands - With the collapse of the Dutch centre-right government, the Netherlands may now drop some of its most eye-popping proposals aimed at Muslims and other immigrants and could soften its strong anti-immigration rhetoric.

A ban on Muslim face veils, such as the Arabic-style niqabs that leave the eyes uncovered and Afghan-style burqas that cover the face with a cloth grid, is less likely to go ahead after the government collapsed at the weekend.

The minority Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition's alliance with Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) fell apart when they could not reach agreement on crucial budget cuts. An election has been called for September 12.

In return for Wilders' support in parliament, the government had proposed a number of laws, including bans on Muslim face veils and on dual nationality.

If it appears clear that there is no longer a parliamentary majority in favor of such proposals, they could soon be taken "off the table", said Maurits Berger, professor of Islam in the contemporary West at Leiden University.

"These policies were driven by PVV but also by this government in order to maintain their relationship with PVV. They have turned Holland into a pariah," Berger said.

"These are the legacy of the PVV. Face veils, dual nationality - both these proposals have not really been thought through."

The Christian Democrats will no longer support a proposal to ban dual nationality, a source within the party told Reuters. The party also feels uneasy about the face veil ban, Dutch daily De Volkskrant said.

Many opposition parties, including Labor, Democrats 66 and GreenLeft, had already opposed the proposed face veil and dual nationality bans, leaving the proposals without majority support in parliament if the Christian Democrats don't back them.

Now that the government has fallen, Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers will no longer push for issues such as the need to make it harder for immigrants to bring in other family members, his spokesman said.

Over the past decade there has been a pronounced shift in the Netherlands towards tougher immigration policies, pushed by politicians like Pim Fortuyn and, more recently, by Wilders.

Wilders' tough stance on immigrants, particularly Muslims and more recently those from European Union member countries including Poland, have backfired on the Netherlands.

Leers tried to mend ties with Poland last month after Wilders, who requires 24-hour protection because he has received death threats, launched a website targeting workers from eastern and central Europe.

His website drew criticism from the European Commission and Parliament as well as from countries including Poland, Bulgaria and Romania but Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declined to speak out publicly against it.