Netherlands prime minister pledges to build support for European integration among Dutch

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: An anti-immigrant Dutch lawmaker said Thursday the first Muslims ever appointed to Cabinet posts should be stripped of their jobs because they hold dual nationality.

In a speech during a nationally televised debate on the new centrist Dutch government’s policy blueprint, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders said Mohammed Aboutaleb and Nebahat Albayrak should not be allowed to serve in the Cabinet because of “the appearance of a conflict of interest” caused by their dual nationalities.

The comments underscored how the Netherlands, once one of Europe’s most welcoming to immigrants, is still wrestling with how to deal with a growing number of new citizens, mainly from Islamic countries, despite an election last year that replaced a right-wing administration with a more moderate coalition.

The flamboyant Wilders, whose party is anti-immigration, protested that Turkish-Dutch Albayrak and Dutch-Moroccan minister of social affairs Aboutaleb and should not be allowed to govern.

Wilders insisted his real objection to the pair was not that they are Muslims.

“If Mr. Aboutaleb had a blond fringe and Swedish passport I would be saying the same thing,” said Wilders, who has a bouffant dyed blond hairstyle.

Sitting among government ministers, Aboutaleb smiled at the comment.

The Dutch constitution allows any Dutch citizen to serve in government.

While a clear majority of lawmakers reject Wilders’ views and there is no chance Aboutaleb or Albayrak will be forced to resign, Wilders’ party won nine seats in Nov. 22 elections. By contrast, the CU Christian values party, which is a junior member of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s new centrist coalition, won six. Polls show around one third of the population support Wilders’ stance.

Later in his speech, Wilders warned against what he called a rising tide of “Islamization” in the Netherlands, where 1 million of the 16 million population are Muslim, many of them like Aboutaleb and Albayrak descended from Turkish or Moroccan immigrants.

“This government wants to raise dikes because of a possible rise in sea level of a few centimeters (inches),” Wilders said. “But against the growing Islamization they are doing nothing.”

Earlier in the debate, Balkenende promised Thursday to work to build support among Dutch people for European institutions in his first address to parliament since last year’s elections.

Dutch and French voters rejected a proposed European constitution in 2005 referendums. There was no alternative to the constitution, and the union’s 27 member states have just begun publicly debating proposals for what to do next.

“For further European cooperation, we must build more support in our society,” Balkenende said, adding that citizens must be closely involved in decision-making if alternative plans are to have any hope of success.

Balkenende was scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday for talks on the future of the European Union.

Balkenende’s new Cabinet unites his conservative Christian Democrats with the left-leaning Labor Party and the small CU.

Under their coalition agreement, trademark liberal Dutch policies such as permissive drug laws and legal euthanasia will remain unaffected, but the government will not extend them. It also will introduce a cooling off period for women seeking abortions and invest more in palliative care as an alternative to euthanasia.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 1, 2007.
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