So that was Paris for another two years, time to move on this week to…. Antwerp? Yup, it’s home to a long-serving General Motors Europe plant, currently making Opel Astras and, while GM says it’s for the chop, unions and the Flemish government are saying, ‘hang on a mo’.

GM is, of course, caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, as editor Dave Leggett noted earlier this week, the same day GM said that the plant would definitely close: “Has there been much OEM industrial restructuring in Europe in response to much lower market volume? No. Overcapacity remains. For national governments, like companies, sectoral overcapacity is someone else’s problem. You don’t shell out taxpayers’ money in soft loans only to see a car company shut a plant. Governments certainly don’t want the economic and political grief that can flow from that.” On the other hand, there are savings which must be made though, to get there, many workers must be sacked in a struggling western European economy, with the attendant bad publicity.

Which neatly foretold What Happened Next, as tracked by our intrepid business editor Simon Warburton. Later on Monday, the unions expressed anger and disappointment at the apparent turnaround, compared with what Opel/Vauxhall chief Nick Reilly had, only a few days before, told reporters, including us, in Paris.

Tuesday, the unions demanded to know the identity of the Chinese firm thought to be one of two potential bidders for the plant. Later, Simon, who had been talking to as many insiders as possible all day, posted his views opining that the union protests were “like a final throw of the dice from the labour organisations. The plant, where half of the employees have already departed, has been earmarked for disposal for some time by Opel, which has undergone some radical restructuring across Europe to cut capacity”.

Wednesday, the Flemish government, not surprisingly, as it will have to take some responsibility for helping the to-be-sacked GM workers, said a loan guarantee would not be out of the question should a potential investor come forward. And Simon ‘backgrounded’ the issue from the Chinese perspective, considering why, in light of Geely’s recent purchase of Volvo Cars which also has a plant in Belgium, Antwerp could be an attractive way into Europe.

Thursday, and it looked like Geely, already busy with Volvo, was not going to be the knight in shining armour for the Antwerp workers, after all.

Friday, and it was looking like a Chinese investor was still in the frame as unions hoped their Thursday works council meeting with Reilly would be followed by one with a potential Chinese ‘partner’.

Our final coverage before we called it a week, published just a few minutes ago, showed that, despite Geely’s best efforts to quash speculation surrounding the Antwerp plant, one highly-placed source in Belgium said today that Geely chief Li Shufu, on a visit to the country this week, had not just concentrated on his Volvo division’s Ghent activities.

Indeed, he had also turned his attention – in tandem with the Flanders government’s so-called Reconversion Group comprising politicians and finance experts to find an Antwerp solution – to the Opel plant’s future.

“At the last meeting between Li Shufu and Peeters, Mr Shufu said he was interested to give orders to his experts to search with the experts of the Reconversion Group [as to] what could be the case – with Opel Antwerp,” a source told us.

To be continued, I think….

Have a great weekend.

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor