Foreign press homes in on Dutch burqa ban

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The ban on wearing the full Islamic veil, or burqa, has caught the interest of the foreign press big-time in its coverage of the new Dutch government’s agreement. A stricter immigration policy and tougher measures to limit the sale of soft drugs are also hot topics abroad.

After 113 days of arduous negotiation and a couple of false starts, the governing agreement was finally presented by the possible minority coalition and Geert Wilders’ far-right anti-Islamic Freedom Party – which will support the cabinet from the Lower House.

The Belgian De Morgen headlines with “The Netherlands turns to the right”. The daily gives extensive coverage to the burqa ban and the proposal to limit the sale of soft drugs in the so-called “coffee shops” to members only in order to put an end to “drugs tourists” who travel to the Netherlands solely to buy drugs. Coffee shop club members who buy drugs have to be of legal age.

French daily Le Monde also devotes extensive coverage to the burqa ban. France became the first European country to ban veils which cover the face entirely, when its senate approved legislation just over two weeks ago.

Wilders' blessing
The mass-circulation weekly Der Spiegel also reports on the burqa ban, but devotes more coverage to the restriction of immigrants from non-Western countries. The magazine includes reaction quotes from concerned rightwing and leftwing politicians alike who cast doubt on the feasibility of "Duldung" (Dutch gedoogsteun) - that is to say, parliamentary support – from Mr Wilders.

As his Freedom Party (PVV) will not be part of the new cabinet, it will not provide any ministers. A unique construction, with no precedent in Dutch politics.

The sceptical Germans wonder what the consequences will be for the European Union, given the PVV’s anti-Europe stance. Earlier this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “regrettable” that a governing agreement was to be signed with the PVV. Mr Wilders responded with a clear message – the German leader had “no right” to interfere with the internal affairs of another sovereign nation.

On Friday, Chancellor Merkel publicly criticised Mr Wilders once again, denouncing his views on Islam. “To dismiss a religious faith in its entirety is simply not our style,” she said, referring to Mr Wilders’ quote that Islam is an ideology and not a religion. Mrs Merkel emphasised, however, that Germany “will continue to work in close co-operation with the Netherlands in all areas as a friendly partner”.

The British BBC news site headlines with “Islamic veil ban in Dutch coalition deal”; the Spanish El País and El Mundo regard the ban as the most significant part of the governing agreement.

Spanner in the coalition works?
The foreign press largely fails to point out that while the three negotiating parties have emerged with an accord after months of deadlock, the deal still has to be ratified by the Christian Democrats in a special convention this weekend. The deal has angered some CDA MPs who do not want to work with Mr Wilders or be associated with his anti-Islamic sentiment.

On Saturday, the CDA will vote on the governing agreement - so its future is not a given yet - but dissidents have said they will tow the party line. The Dutch await Saturday’s outcome with baited breath after one of the most colourful and dramatic coalition formations in the country’s history.