Austria plans to ban the Muslim face veil in public places, the centrist coalition government said on Monday as it announced a package of policies aimed at countering the growing appeal of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).
The FPO has topped opinion polls for months, boosted by Europe’s migrant crisis and the influx of large numbers of often Muslim asylum seekers, and last month its candidate came close to winning Austria’s presidential election.
With a parliamentary election due next year, Chancellor Christian Kern of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPO) is trying to regain the political initiative by forging a swift agreement with his conservative coalition partner on a package of measures ranging from immigration to education.
“We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited,” said the text of the coalition agreement published on Monday.
The term used would apply to the Muslim burka and niqab, which cover all or most of the face. It was not immediately clear whether the ban would include other non-Muslim garments.
The FPO has called for a ban on Muslim symbols comparable to an existing law that forbids Nazi symbols. Mainly Catholic Austria is home to around 600,000 Muslims in a total population of about 8.7 million.
Members of the conservative People’s Party, the junior coalition member, have pushed for tougher security and immigration measures, including the electronic tagging of former militants and greater use of video surveillance, which were also included in the new agreement.