Breaking News -- European Union
|Dutch election: PM Rutte sees off anti-EU Wilders challenge
Many had been watching the vote in the Netherlands closely, as an indication for how populist parties may fare in other elections in EU countries.
France goes to the polls next month to elect a new president, while Germany is due to hold a general election in September.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called Mr Rutte to congratulate him, while Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has also tweeted his congratulations.
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Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, said he was "relieved" Mr Wilders' party had lost.
"We must continue to fight for an open and free Europe!" he added on Twitter (in German).
However, Mr Wilders warned that Mr Rutte "has not seen the last of me".
He previously said that the "patriotic revolution" would continue to take place, and "the genie will not go back into the bottle".
Pharrell Williams' song Happy pumped out across a conference hall converted to host the victorious VVD.
"Of course he'll still be prime minister," a loyal party member with black rimmed glasses told us. "He's the best man for the job."
Entry to the gathering was invitation only. Most of the foreign press were contained in a side room. The champagne was flowing but there wasn't much fizz. The mild-mannered, measured Mark Rutte appears to have been given a mandate.
He will say he stopped the "dominos of populism" from falling, but to do that he shifted himself to occupy the populists' territory, talking tough on immigration and integration.
As parliamentary seats are allocated in exact proportion to a party's vote share, the VVD party will need to go into coalition with other parties.
The VVD had ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party - but not the other two runners-up, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party, and the Democrats 66 (D66) party, which are both pro-EU.
The CDA said it was delighted with its election result and looked forward to helping form a coalition.
The VVD will need at least three other parties before it can secure a majority.
Hence, the other smaller parties will be seen as potential power-brokers.
Exit polls suggest the Green-Left party performed strongly, winning a total of 16 seats, compared to four in the last parliament.
Meanwhile, the Socialist Party took 14 seats, while the VVD's previous coalition partner, the Labour Party, saw its number of seats plunge from 38 to nine.
Analysts said it appeared to have been punished for its role in the coalition government, where it helped pass austerity measures.
Party leader Lodewijk Asscher called it "a bitter evening for labour - unbelievably disappointing".
"Rebuilding the party begins today," he said.
Turkey says "Migrant Deal Has Ended", may unleash millions of refugees
As we noted moments ago, the tit-for-tat aggression resumed its escalation between Turkey and the Netherlands, with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus exclaiming from Ankara that "Europe's politicians are under fascist, neo-nazi influence" and in response, Turkey will suspend all high-level diplomatic meetings and cancels all flight permissions for Dutch politicians.
As part of its furious response, Turkey said it would impose various travel sanctions on Dutch diplomats such as halting all high-level political discussions with the Netherlands in the wake of the Dutch government's decision to bar two cabinet ministers from campaigning in the country. Kurtulmus said during a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting that Ankara also is closing its air space to Dutch diplomats until the Netherlands meets Turkish requests, according to the AP.
Kurtulmus also says the Dutch ambassador to Turkey, who was traveling when the diplomatic row started, won't be allowed to return, and said that Turkey's government plans to advise parliament to withdraw from a Dutch-Turkish friendship group.
It was unclear what the sudden Turkish escalation means for economic ties between the two nations: as a reminder, Dutch direct investment in Turkey amounts to $22 billion, making the Netherlands the biggest source of foreign investment with a share of 16%. Furthermore, Turkish exports to the Netherlands totalled $3.6 billion in 2016, making it the tenth largest market for Turkish goods, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Turkey imported $3 billion worth of Dutch goods in 2016. Should the diplomatic spat lead to a collapse in trade relations, a Turkey recession is all but assured.
Kurtulmus said the political sanctions will apply until the Netherlands takes steps to "redress" its actions. He said: "There is a crisis and a very deep one. We didn't create this crisis or bring to this stage."
However the most troubling development, and one which has the potential to sway the outcome of the Dutch election which will be held in less than two days, is that in the final power play aimed towards Merkel, Kurtulmus exclaimed that since "Europe has not kept its promises on the migrant deal, for us that agreement has ended."
Which means that one year after it collected $3 billion for the migrant deal, Turkey has just voided the agreement, and the next step would be that Turkey is about to flood Europe with refugees currently held inside Turkish borders. And since by some estimates Turkey currently harbors over 2 million potential migrants, Europe's refugee situation is about to get far worse, and as a corollary, support for anti-immigrant political organizations across the continent is about to take another step function higher.
Germany rebuffs Trump's call for a big jump in military spending
Austin Davis, Special for USA TODAY
BERLIN — Europe's most populous and economically powerful country can easily afford to spend more on its military defense, as NATO requires and President Trump demands. Yet Germany, still haunted by the horrors of World War II, simply doesn't want to do that.
Even in today's dangerous world, Germany is a largely pacifist nation, security analysts say.
"It's clear that the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) just can't realistically achieve these goals," said Sönke Neitzel, a professor of military history at the University of Potsdam. "The institution has really fallen behind. We're very far away from being fit for combat on a small scale, let alone on a large one."
The world's fourth-largest economy spent $37 billion — 1.2% of its economic output — on defense last year, according to government figures. That is far short of the 2% set by NATO and a third of the 3.6% of gross domestic product that the United States spent in 2016, according to NATO figures.
That shortfall by Germany and other NATO countries is why Trump renewed his call in a speech to Congress on Feb. 28 for NATO members to pay their fair share of defense costs. "Our partners must meet their financial obligations," Trump said. "Now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that. In fact, I can tell you that the money is pouring in."
That's not quite the case in the German capital. The federal government plans to increase its military spending by $2.1 billion this year. It would bring total spending to $39 billion, a 5.4% annual boost. The increase pales in comparison with the 10%, or $54 billion, hike in U.S. defense spending Trump proposes for 2018.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet with Trump at the White House on Tuesday, recently announced plans to add 20,000 soldiers to the Bundeswehr to bring the force to nearly 200,000 but not before 2024, and the increase merely offsets recent cuts in troop strength.
"Security and safety are important," Merkel said last week. "Responsibilities need to be fulfilled. The world expects it of us, and I think they are right to expect Germany to deliver on its pledges."
To fulfill NATO's requirements, the nation of 80 million would have to double its defense spending to more than $79 billion within the next seven years. Plans call for spending $41 billion by 2020.
Defense Ministry officials said the country isn’t shirking its responsibilities. "Germany is prepared to take an early, decisive and substantial role as a driving force in the debate over international security," the ministry said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Even if Merkel pushed for more defense spending, she would face a public with low support for a stronger military. In 2011, the government ended conscription. Since then, the size of the armed forces contracted by about 22,000 soldiers through last year, government figures show.
"Preparedness to fight is an attitude that really doesn't exist here in Germany," Neitzel said.
To attract more recruits, the Defense Ministry launched a multi-million-dollar recruitment campaign late last year featuring a YouTube reality series targeting citizens ages 14 to 35.
Following 12 new soldiers through basic training, the upbeat YouTube series quickly became an Internet sensation in Germany. But many criticized the endeavor for glossing over reality.
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