Germany’s Social Democrat (SPD) party is open in principle to providing ball-bearing maker Schaeffler with state aid, chairman Franz Muentefering has said.

“Situations can arise in which you need to help many, many families in order to prevent a catastrophe,” Muentefering told Reuters in Berlin. “Then you need to do it.”

Family-owned Schaeffler borrowed EUR16bn (US$21bn) to buy control of car parts maker Continental against the wishes of its former chief executive but the collapse of Lehman Brothers and intensification of the financial crisis left the firm struggling to cope with the debt.

Aid would help workers at the firm and not its board, Muentefering said. Yet it was too early to say how government discussions on aid for Schaeffler could work out, he added.

German economy minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a member of chncellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party, told a newspaper at the weekend that providing Schaeffler with aid was a “last ditch” option.

Other conservatives have rejected the idea, the report noted.