Austria is the latest European country to move to ban the full-face veil in public spaces.
The country’s ruling coalition this week agreed to prohibit full-face veils such as the burqa and the niqab in courts and schools, while further investigating the possibility of banning headscarves for women employed in public services.
The ban is part of a package of changes hammered out by the ruling Social Democratic party (SPÖ) and the centre-right Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) to avert the collapse of their coalition government, which would have triggered snap elections.
Other new policy goals they have agreed include expanding Austria’s CCTV network and a compulsory “integration year” for asylum seekers, during which they would have to commit themselves to learning German and working for a charitable organisation.
The ban on the full-face veil is seen above all as a symbolic measure designed to avert pressure from the anti-immigration Freedom party (FPÖ), which is currently leading in the polls. Only between 100 and 150 women are estimated to wear the full-face veil in Austria. A spokesperson emphasized the ban would apply for tourist destinations such as the Zell am See ski resort as well as the urban center of Vienna.
A similar ban has been place in France and Belgium since 2011, the Netherlands introduced a partial ban in 2015, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, endorsed her party’s call to ban the full-face veil “wherever it is legally possible” last year.
While the government’s working paper also said civil servants in executive positions, such as judges and state prosecutors, should be forced to wear “religiously neutral” clothing, the Austrian justice ministry has distanced itself from the proposals, stating that guidelines already prescribe specific clothing in court.
According to Der Standard newspaper, there are no women with headscarves working for Austria’s police force or the country’s courts.
The president of Austria’s Islamic Faith Community, Ibrahim Olgun, criticized the proposed ban, saying that it would “pull the rug” from under efforts to create a good working relationship between the government and the Muslim community.