VIENNA – Austria will ban the veil in public places such as courts and schools as part of a raft of new measures to appease far-right opposition, its chancellor announced on Tuesday.
The country’s ruling coalition is also considering a more general ban on state employees wearing the headscarf and other religious symbols, the BBC reported.
Chancellor Christian Kerr said ‘the full-face veil will be banned in public spaces’ as he announced a raft of new plans to be implemented over the next 18 months.
A new 35-page document also says that migrants granted the right to stay in Austria will be forced to sign an ‘integration contract’ and a ‘statement of values’
The measures are seen as an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, whose candidate narrowly lost last month’s presidential vote.
The centrist coalition nearly collapsed last week amid crisis negotiations over the government’s future direction.
Detailing the package of reforms, the coalition devoted just two lines to the planned ban on the Islamic niqab and burqa. “We are committed to an open society, which also presupposes open communication. A full-face veil in public places stands in its way and will therefore be banned,” it said.
An estimated 150 women wear the full niqab in Austria but tourism officials have expressed fears that the measures will also deter visitors from the Gulf.
Several European countries have imposed similar bans but the Austrian move is, according to the vice chancellor a “symbolic” step.
France and Belgium introduced a burqa ban in 2011 and a similar measure is currently going through the Dutch parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that the full-face veil should be prohibited in Germany “wherever it is legally possible”.
The United Kingdom does not ban the niqab or burqa.
Niqab & Burqa
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.