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Ministers to meet over Opel

Publication date: 29 May 2009

Some of Europe’s ministers for industry and/or the economy will meet, at 15:00 on 29 May in Brussels, to discuss the future of Opel and Vauxhall, subsidiaries of the US car maker General Motors, which is bordering on bankruptcy. The meeting comes at the request of Belgium, which is concerned about the Opel plant in Antwerp (Flanders) and has criticised the involvement of Germany alone in the negotiations on the automotive firm’s future. In a letter sent to the Commission, on 27 May, the Belgian government called for a European solution and asked the Commission to take an initiative.

According to a Commission spokesman, the purpose of the meeting is to exchange information (“to make sure that everyone has the same information”) and to coordinate the different actions. Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen will be present, along with Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. Representatives of General Motors will not attend, although they were present for an initial meeting, on 13 March. Twelve member states were on hand for that first meeting - Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK – and they agreed at the time not to take national measures without reciprocal information and coordination.

The meeting on 29 May comes as the German government and GM are negotiating a possible takeover of Opel, which employs 25,000 people in Germany. A meeting in Berlin that lasted into the night of 27 May was unproductive. GM asked for additional aid of €300 million on top of the €1.5 billion it hopes to secure from the German government to save Opel. German aid would total €1.8 billion in the scenario of the creation of a trust company placed in charge of managing Opel temporarily until it can be taken over by an investor. The British government has also announced that public support will probably be needed for the takeover of Vauxhall. The European Commission is closely following the latest developments and notes that it intends to fully enforce EU rules on competition and state aid.

State aid may not be granted on the condition that jobs are kept in one country rather than another, recalled the spokesman for Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

He added that the Commission had no reason to believe that either Germany or the United Kingdom “will grant subsidies that are in breach of EU rules”.

Source: Europolitics

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