Europe's immigration fears reflected in Dutch vote

Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:51pm IST

* Anti-immigrant party PVV more than doubles seats to 24

* Electorate increasingly xenophobic over past decade

* Dutch follow European trend of immigrant fears

By Gilbert Kreijger

AMSTERDAM, June 10 (Reuters) - Dutch voters have handed an anti-Islam party the chance to join a coalition government and shape future policy, underlining growing concerns in Europe over immigration.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party, wants to ban face veils and Islam's holy book, the Koran, as well as shut down Islamic schools in the Netherlands, home to 1 million Muslims in a country of 16.6 million.

"More security, less crime, less immigration, less Islam -- that is what the Netherlands has chosen," Wilders said after his party was catapulted into third place in Wednesday's election, more than doubling its seats to 24 in the 150-seat parliament.

"We are very much here to govern, we very much want to join... It would not be fair to the 1.5 million people who voted for us."

Wilders, instantly recognisable for his shock of bleach-dyed hair, wears a bullet proof vest in public for security reasons and may now play a role as kingmaker in coalition talks.

He is political heir to populist anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn, who was killed in 2002 and set off years of discord over immigration and the role of Islam in Dutch society.

"The Netherlands is not an exception in Europe. In quite a number of countries there is public fear for globalisation and European integration, which is projected onto immigrants," said Siep Stuurman, a history professor at Erasmus University.

FEARS OVER IMMIGRATION

Belgium's Lower House banned full face veils in April, and Swiss voters forbade the construction of new minarets in November. France proposed in March to toughen immigration laws and is considering a draft law to ban full face veils.

Austria's anti-foreigner Freedom Party (FPOe) joined a government coalition in 2000 on the back of big electoral wins but has since lost some of its prominence.

Austria found itself marginalised, and the same risk exists with Wilders.

"He is a very loose cannon which could potentially insult foreign powers or heads of state," said Andre Krouwel, a doctor in political science at VU University Amsterdam.

After Dutch voters gave a slim win to the Liberal party over Labour, coalition talks will begin on forming a new government with the Freedom Party as potential coalition partner.

Despite Wilder's apparent willingness to form a government and potentially being able to work with the Liberals and the fourth-placed Christian Democrats, any coalition would probably be unstable and short-lived.

"I think the Liberals' first chance in a century to lead a government and start reforms will not be risked by governing with PVV," said Krouwel.

"Wilders is the only one controlling the party. That is a huge risk for a coalition government, being dependent on the whims of a single person." (Editing by Charles Dick)

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