The German government has defended controversial state aid to car maker Opel after a series of complaints from other EU administrations, saying Germany would bear the brunt of European job losses.
“What we have done for Opel is good for all Europe (and) is good for Britain and Spain,” Peter Hintze, a junior economy minister in chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“In absolute terms, Germany is absorbing the greatest number of job losses … more than Britain and Spain combined,” he said as he arrived for meetings with European Union counterparts in Brussels.
European regulators are probing claims of political influence on the Opel stake sale, with Belgium – which risks seeing its GM factory in Antwerp closed – joined by Britain, Poland and Spain in raising concerns at the talks.
Hintze said Berlin’s offer of EUR4.5bn (US$6.6bn) of state aid to the Magna International-led consortium with Sberbank would also give British sister company Vauxhall “a future.”
Magna is now expected to axe around 11,000 jobs from around 45,000 in Europe, including about 4,000 from the 25,000 in Germany.
Britain’s business minister Peter Mandelson – a former EU trade commissioner – has written to competition commissioner Neelie Kroes complaining of “political intervention.”
Germany holds a general election, in which polls give Merkel a solid lead, on Sunday, 27 September.
Germany previously extended a EUR1.5bn bridging loan to fund Opel going until the takeover is complete but has also issued loan guarantees worth another EUR3bn.
Hintze referred to 15 September talks with EU partners on joint financing plans and said Berlin wanted “an equitable distribution of the load” and called for each country with Opel plants to contribute “proportionate to the economic weight of that state” and taking into account its total salary bill or employee numbers.
European Commission vice-president Guenter Verheugen said inspectors would examine not only German state aid, but incentives from “all those countries implicated.”
Verheugen said officials would meet with the governments of those countries on 7 October to discuss Magna’s plans, adding that those talks would form “the basis” of the commission’s decision.
Hintze vowed that his government would respond to the commission “over the next fortnight.”
Berlin is aiming for EU approval for completion of the sale by 30 November.
A commission spokesman told AFP its scrutiny would be thorough regardless of complaints.