Germany Wants GM to Come to Berlin To Discuss Opel

Aug. 24, 2009
Is disappointed that GM didn't select a buyer for Opel

Germany said on August 24 it wants a GM executive to come to Berlin this week to discuss the fate of its European unit Opel, after GM failed to choose a buyer as Chancellor Angela Merkel had hoped. "Our aim is to organize this week a meeting in Berlin with a representative from General Motors' board," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a regular government briefing. "We will then attempt to clear up any open questions in a constructive manner."

He stressed however that despite Merkel expressing her disappointment at the failure of GM's board to select a buyer for Opel on August 21, there was no spat with the U.S. government, which owns a majority stake in GM following the firm's bankruptcy in June.

"There are constant contacts with representatives of the U.S. government... parallel to the talks with GM," Wilhelm said. "We have always managed to avoid any tensions in our transatlantic relations. The relations between the two governments are good and unaffected."

Germany, where around half of GM's 50,000 employees in Europe work, had hoped that GM executives would choose on August 21 an offer for Opel from Canadian auto parts maker Magna and state-owned Russian lender Sberbank.

GM's board is widely believed to prefer a rival bid from Brussels-based investment group RHJ International. But during a telephone conference, GM's board stopped short of making a decision either way because it had identified "a few issues where there was a need for further clarification," Wilhelm said.

Berlin has offered 4.5 billion euros (US$6.4 billion) worth of financing to support an Opel sale, but only for Magna, to the annoyance of other European governments such as Britain.

Germany -- with elections due on September 27 -- supports Magna because it believes that the the bulk of job cuts and plant closures that any buyer will make in an attempt to make Opel profitable will happen in other countries.

Wilhelm also said that Germany has received "no indications" to support media reports that GM was considering holding on to Opel, which includes all GM's European operations except Saab but including Vauxhall in Britain.

"In recent weeks we have been able to clear up most of the open questions. Germany has done its homework... There are two contracts ready to be signed," Wilhelm said.

"What is important is that this does not lead to confrontation. This issue can only solved by cooperation and not by confrontation," he added.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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