The federal parliament’s home affairs committee voted unanimously to impose the ban on any clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified. This ban includes the full-face nikab and burka.
The draft bill says that people who ignore the ban would be fined 15-25 euros as well as risk a prison sentence of up to seven days, unless police give special permission to wear the garments.
The government and opposition are in agreement on the issue and observers expect the Belgian parliament to easily endorse the draft law on 22 April.
“This is a very strong signal that is being sent to Islamists”, French-speaking deputy Denis Ducarme, from the centre-right Reformist Movement that proposed the bill, told the assembly in Brussels.
He added that he was proud that Belgium would be “the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter”.
If endorsed, the vote would see a ban on the full Islamic veil imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings “meant for public use or to provide services” to the public. Exceptions would be allowed for certain festivities if municipal authorities decide to grant them.
Muslim and Catholic organisations have warned that the move to ban the burka could set a dangerous precedent.
A ban on the burka is also being debated elsewhere in Europe. On Tuesday, France’s State Council ruled that there were no legal grounds for a complete ban on the full Islamic veil, but suggested the burka could be outlawed in some places for security reasons.