New Dutch govt wants to tighten immigration laws

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A new Dutch minority government that could be formed as early as next week is planning to ban face-covering burqas and slash immigration, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said Thursday.

The proposed new administration is a coalition between the Liberal VVD party led by future Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Christian Democratic Alliance. The two parties, which have 52 seats in the 150-seat parliament, will rely for support on the 24 seats held by Wilders and his Freedom Party.

The deal has aroused objections from some Christian Democrat lawmakers who don't want to work with Wilders. A Christian Democrat party convention on Saturday will decide whether to go ahead with the planned four-year alliance.

However, while Wilders has the toughest anti-immigrant views, both the VVD and Christian Democrats pledged before the elections to crack down on new arrivals, and the last Christian Democrat-led government also wanted to ban burqas.

The policy blueprint unveiled Thursday came after months of closed-doors negotiations following inconclusive June 9 national elections.

Rutte's VVD party emerged as the largest party, but Wilders' Freedom Party rose from nine seats to 24, underscoring a further shift from the Netherlands' long-held image as a bastion of tolerance that welcomes newcomers.

Wilders said he hoped that by toughening immigration regulations, the new government would slash the number of asylum seekers getting into the Netherlands by one-quarter and reduce by half what he called "non-Western immigrants."

The government said it plans to make it harder for immigrants already living in the Netherlands to bring other family members here and also would make it tougher for unskilled immigrants with little chance of finding work to move to the country.

"We are taking unprecedented measures to rein in immigration," Wilders said.

Those immigrants who do get in will have to pay for their own integration courses and could be kicked out if they do not complete them.

The policy document was presented just days before Wilders is scheduled to go on trial in Amsterdam on hate speech charges linked to his outspoken criticism of Islam, which he describes as a violent political ideology.

Dutch governments in the past have said they planned to ban full-face veils such as burqas, but have never pushed the policy into law.

In the meantime, France's Parliament has passed legislation banning Islamic veils such as burqas.
While the VVD and Christian Democrats are reliant on Wilders' support in parliament, they are at pains to say they do not share his anti-Islam stance.

"This Cabinet will stand up for our freedoms, including freedom of education and religion," Christian Democrat leader Maxime Verhagen said. "These freedoms are shared by everybody; men or women, young or old ... Christian or Muslim."

Rutte said he also planned to slash government spending by euro18 billion ($24.6 billion) in coming years to help the Netherlands emerge from the global fiscal crisis with a stronger economy.