GM decision this week – says German Economy Minister


General Motors is expected to make a ‘fundamental decision’ this week about selling GM Europe, which includes Germany’s Opel and the UK’s Vauxhall, threatening the jobs of 5,000 UK and 10,000 German workers.

The GM Board has been in talks for weeks about whether to sell the units to Russian Sberbank-backed Canadian auto parts company Magna, or Belgian private equity group RHJ International.

‘We expect a fundamental decision next week,’ said German economy minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Friday, adding that Gemany had ‘done its homework’ and needs ‘only a signature’.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Saturday that Germany still favours Magna.

Speaking at a G20 press conference, he said his impression is that the US government will leave the decision about Opel with the GM board of directors and won’t exercise ‘massive influence’.

Steinbrueck said: ‘I have told him what our government’s position is, that we are very much interested that the current vacuum will finally be filled. Our government still favours the industrial policy concept of Magna and therefore this partner.’ He added that Germany’s willingness to provide aid ‘is clearly linked to this partner’.

Steinbrueck warned that ‘the decisions will clearly be made based on the very narrow economic interests of General Motors. ‘It could be that the situation of General Motors over the past months differs from the state of discussions in March, April.’

He added that he cannot say how the GM board will decide in its meeting that will take place tomorrow, Tuesday 8th September.

The German government, which is currently propping up Opel with 1.5bn euros of state aid and is set to finance any deal, is anxious to reach an agreement this month.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Unite officials had a meeting with Magna at Business Secretary Mandelson’s department in London a fortnight ago.

In a newsletter to members, the Unite senior trade union representatives and shop stewards’ committee warned that ‘the German government has threatened to ask for bridging loans back immediately and to withdraw pledges of future support if Magna is overlooked in favour of RHJ.’

Unite added that under Magna’s plan, ‘there is no defined future for GMM Luton beyond 2013’ and that for Ellesmere Port ‘there is no guarantee regarding a future beyond 2016’.

The newsletter said: ‘No negotiations took place. However, it was made clear to Magna’s group of four executive delegates, that the Unite union will never endorse (although, ultimately we can’t prevent) the takeover of GM by Magna, if our UK plants and UK workers’ jobs are at risk.’ Unite added that although Magna had responded by ‘stating that all plans are fluid’, the company said ‘that Luton may have to compete with workforces (earning a fraction of our earnings) to have any chance of building’ a new generation commercial vehicle.

The newsletter added however: ‘At the closure of this meeting, Unite reiterated that if Magna’s stance was in our view more UK friendly in terms of guaranteeing a future for UK plants, our view may change.’

But it went on to say: ‘RHJ’s template, albeit difficult in terms of restructuring for our employees, at least offered a degree of security for the UK and Luton.’ It admitted that ‘unfortunately’ a meeting with RHJ bosses had been cancelled and was ‘yet to be rescheduled’.

Unite leaders are opposed to nationalisation, the one policy that will save jobs at Luton and Ellesmere Port.