Face-covering veils are set to be banned in public places in Austria, per the country's ruling coalition, with a more widespread ban of all headscarves and religious symbols worn by state employees possible down the road, the BBC reports. The ban on niqabs (veils that cover all of the face except the eyes) and burkas (full body-and-face coverings that usually have just a mesh opening to peer through) was included in a 35-page packet of policies meant to counteract the ascension of the ultra-conservative Freedom Party, per the Independent. "We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication," reads the document, which adds that face-hiding coverings in public spaces "stand against that" open communication. Austria is a Catholic-majority country, with about 600,000 Muslims in a population of 8.7 million or so, the Independent notes.
The full-face veil has become a controversial issue in Europe: France was the first EU country to ban it in 2011, with Belgium following later that year, per the BBC. Cities in other countries have similar bans, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for one in December. Muslims in Austria are pushing back on the development in their own country, with some calling it a "setback" and "counterproductive," per CNN. "This is state-run discrimination against Muslim women," the chair of the Austrian Muslim Initiative says. The Austrian government also has an "integration contract and a declaration of values" it wants to make refugees and certain immigrants sign. "Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society," the document text reads, per the Telegraph. (A woman in Australia went off on a student wearing a niqab.)