|CDA leader Maxime Verhagen is likely to keep his job as cabinet minister after his party said ‘yes’ to the PVV [AFP]|
The Christian Democrat (CDA) party in the Netherlands has voted to co-operate with an anti-Islam party, removing another hurdle to forming a conservative Dutch government.
At a convention in the city of Arnhem on Saturday, a 68 per cent majority of the 5,000 CDA-members cast ballots in favour of working with the Freedom Party, although there was significant opposition.
The Christian Democrats plan to join a minority cabinet led by the pro-business VVD party, with tacit support from Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom party. The trio have announced a blueprint to curtail immigration and make major spending cuts.
CDA members of parliament will make a final decision next week, with two party dissidents possibly still opposed.
Maxime Verhagen, the CDA leader, said he was delighted by the result of the poll. “The convention showed clear support for the agreement with the VVD,” he said.
However, a number of prominent Christian Democrats have argued against co-operation with the Freedom Party.
“It would be bad for the party and bad for the country,” Kathleen Ferrier, a member of the Dutch parliament, said at the congress in Arnhem.
Former Dutch prime minister Dries van Agt said the co-operation with Geert Wilders will “maim” the Christian Democrats. He also called Geert Wilders an “advocate of national egoism”.
Piet de Jong, another former prime minister, said he was surprised that his fellow Christian Democrats were “willing to compromise the freedom of religion”.
John Tyler, political editor of Radio Netherlands Worldwide, said emotions at the convention in Arnhem were running high.
“There are really impassioned feelings among the Christian Democrats about the issue of co-operating with Wilders, but the vote in the end was not very close,” Tyler told Al Jazeera.
“Wilders will be supporting the new government from his seat in parliament.”
During the vote, protests were held outside the convention venue in Arnhem. TV screens were set up showing footage of Geert Wilders speaking in 2009, when he claimed that CDA stands for “Christians Serve Allah”.
Several dozen activists displayed banners with slogans saying “Freedom Yes, Freedom Party No”.
Political analysts in the Netherlands have expressed concerns over the stability of the CDA-VVD coalition. Any dissent within the CDA could threaten the new government which, led by the PVV, will have a majority of just one seat in parliament.
Meanwhile, Geert Wilders was in Berlin, the German capital, on Saturday to announce plans for a future German branch of his Freedom Party.
“Islam is not a religion,” Wilders said in his speech before some 450 supporters. “It is above all a dangerous political ideology.”
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reports on Wilders’ call for a German Freedom Party branch
One Wilders supporter, an American woman living in Munich since 1972, said the burqa did not belong in Europe.
“I’m offended when I see these women with these black things all over themselves. They look like aliens, they don’t look like they belong on this planet. What are they doing in Europe?” Caroline Rausch said.
“They can wear those clothes and chop off hands and beat their wives and kill their daughters and do whatever they want in their countries and not in my country and not in Europe,” she said.
“I just feel that Islam is evil.”
The Berlin event was organised by René Stadtkewitz, who until recently was a member of the CDU in the city’s parliament, but he was ousted by his party for inviting Wilders to the German capital.
Stadtkewitz hopes to found the German branch of the Freedom Party, called Die Freiheit (freedom).
Outside Wilders’ hotel in Berlin, people held banners and waved flags, one with pictures depicting Wilders with an Adolf Hitler-like moustache.
Wilders on trial
Wilders, who goes on trial in the Netherlands on October 4 for inciting hatred towards Muslims, has attracted a big following by denouncing leniency towards Muslim immigration and calling for bans on the Quran and the burqa.
Nicknamed “Mozart” for his platinum-dyed mop of hair, Wilders describes his far-right label as “nonsense”, but has no hesitation branding the Quran a “fascist” book, and likening it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
According to prosecutors, he risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro ($10,471) fine for his comments. The court will hear evidence next week, followed by the prosecution’s penalty request the following week.
Wilders will plead on October 19, and judgment is expected on November 4, according to a programme provided by the court.