Hoping to win backing for German coalition, SPD boss drops foreign minister plan

Social Democratic Party boss Martin Schulz (File/AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Hoping to win backing for German coalition, SPD boss drops foreign minister plan

BERLIN: The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Martin Schulz, gave up plans on Friday to become the country’s next foreign minister, hoping to shore up support among his party’s members for a new ‘grand coalition’ with Angela Merkel's conservatives.
The SPD agreed on Wednesday to form a new government with the conservatives, more than four months after Germany’s election, but the SPD's 464,000 members could still scupper the deal in a ballot whose results will be announced on March 4.
Many grassroots members of the centre-left party are sceptical about another tie-up with the conservatives after serving in a similar coalition in 2013-17. The SPD then suffered its worst result of the postwar era in September’s election.
Schulz’s announcement on Wednesday that he would resign as SPD chairman to become foreign minister prompted strong criticism in the party as he had promised before the September election that he would not serve in a Merkel-led government.
Merkel, who will secure a fourth term as chancellor if the coalition deal holds, has also come under fire from some in her own camp who say she has made too many concessions to the SPD, including handing it control of the powerful finance ministry. The chancellor is desperate to get a government in place and end the months of political limbo that have hampered decision-making in Germany, Europe's largest economy, and caused concern among its partners in the European Union, which faces challenges from eurozone reform to Brexit.
Schulz, who originally strongly opposed another tie-up with the conservatives only to become one of its leading advocates, has lost political credibility but hopes his decision to step aside will now encourage SPD members to back the coalition deal.
A Forsa poll had shown almost three-quarters of Germans thought it would be wrong for Schulz to become foreign minister.
“I sincerely hope that this (decision) will end the personnel debates within the SPD,” Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, said in a statement.

Youthful discontent
Schulz will also step down as party leader, and his likely successor, Andrea Nahles, said the party would now focus on policy content ahead of the ballot.
Kevin Kuehnert, the leader of the SPD’s youth wing, had strongly criticised the focus on staffing over policy in recent days and said some of the top brass needed “to put their ego on the back burner” so members due to vote on the coalition could focus on evaluating the content of the agreement instead.
Kuehnert, 28, is travelling around the country urging members to vote against a ‘grand coalition.’ He told broadcaster SWR he expected a minority government to take charge in Germany, at least for a few months, if SPD members heeded his call.
The SPD and the conservative bloc both need to respect the clear message delivered by voters, Kuehnert said. Merkel’s conservatives also lost support in the September election which saw a far-right party enter parliament for the first time.
Discontent also simmered in the youth wing of the conservatives on Friday. Its leader, Paul Ziemiak, called for a broad discussion about the longer-term future of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
“We shouldn’t only talk about how we want to shape the next four years in Germany but also what the CDU will stand for in future, which topics we can win elections with in the next 10 years and people go along with topics,” he said.
Ziemiak said the CDU should also think about who would lead the party in the future.


Eels break records in Maine, where they sell for big money

The elvers are always extremely valuable, but they are fetching an especially high price this year. (AP)
Updated 35 min 7 sec ago
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Eels break records in Maine, where they sell for big money

  • Fishermen have sold more than $20 million worth of the eels so far this season
  • The eels are raised to maturity and used in Japanese cuisine. Some are exported back to the US for use in restaurants in dishes such as unagi

PORTLAND, Maine: America’s only significant state fishery for baby eels has blown past records for value as high demand from overseas aquaculture companies is driving prices to new heights.
Fishermen in Maine search for the eels, called elvers, in rivers and streams every spring so they can be sold to Asian aquaculture companies as seed stock. Fishermen have sold more than $20 million worth of the eels so far this season, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
That is the highest total since interstate managers instituted a quota system for the eels in 2014. The previous record was $13.4 million, and fishermen still have until June 7 to catch more of the eels this year.
“Eels are going to get caught up in this next round of tides, I think,” said Darrell Young, co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association. “You never know what the price is going to be, but this year it’s high.”
The eels are raised to maturity and used in Japanese cuisine. Some are exported back to the US for use in restaurants in dishes such as unagi. The elvers are always extremely valuable, but they are fetching an especially high price this year because eel fisheries had unproductive years in other parts of the world, members of the industry said.
Maine’s fishermen were selling elvers at the dock for more than $2,400 a pound as of May 16, and that would be a record if it holds until the end of the season, state records say. They’re also not experiencing the slow harvest that has plagued fishermen in other parts of the world, and are on track to tap out their entire 9,688-pound quota this year.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages the elver fishery and instituted the quota for the first time in 2014 out of concern that a gold-rush mentality would jeopardize the eel population, which conservationists believe is in peril. Fishermen caught nearly 40,000 pounds of the eels between 2012 and 2013, which were years in which Maine elvers grew in value because foreign stocks dried up.
The quota was initially 11,749 pounds, and it was reduced to 9,688 pounds in 2015. Fishermen have never caught the entirety of the quota, though they’ve come close in the past two years. A proposal to increase the quota back to the higher number is up for public hearings in Maine next month.
The growth of the fishery has attracted the attention of some environmentalists. Geoff Smith, marine science program director for The Nature Conservancy, said Maine regulators were wise to implement new controls, such as a swipe-card system to deter poaching.
“As the global demand for elvers continues to rise, it’s increasingly important to have an effective monitoring and reporting system,” Smith said.
Federal investigators have also cracked down on elver poaching in recent years. A judge ruled in early May that two Maine men will spend six months in federal prison for illegally trafficking in poached baby eels.
Investigators are “actively working to dismantle an international wildlife trafficking scheme that not only harms American eels, but US business owners and others who rely on healthy ecosystems for both ecological and economical purposes,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.