BELGIUM: Unions baffled as to next move for Opel in Antwerp

By Simon Warburton | 10 December 2010

European union representatives are expressing bafflement as to why Opel is appearing to drag its heels concerning the sale of its Antwerp site on Port Authority land.

The US manufacturer is currently winding down operations at the Astra-producing factory at the Belgian port, but the European Metalworkers Federation (EMF) is questioning why Opel appears reluctant to advance the process.

Speculation has been rife that a Chinese investor would come forward for the plant, but Opel previously rejected any potential bid as not demonstrating a strong enough business case.

"There was a very, very big Chinese interest but Opel said there was not a business case," EMF company policy director Tony Murphy told just-auto from Belgium. "I can't understand the thinking about Opel - as long as they sell it [site] for the price they want - I think realistically they did not want to sell it to the Chinese.

The Port Authority yesterday told just-auto it will make a bid, but that there was no timetable as the closing of the plant had not yet been finalised.

"The Port Authority has first option on the land. There is a rumour and it is only a rumour, they will end up buying the land with a view to the Chinese or whoever doing a deal with the Port Authority," said Murphy. "That is a big, big possibility."

"It is a crying shame people and skills will lost," said Murphy, whose members total more than 70 European unions including the UK's Unite and Germany's IG Metall.

EMF general secretary Peter Scherrer said last month that: ""Opel should honour its commitment to the unions, the workforce and their families to find an investor who will continue to build cars in Antwerp for years to come".

An Opel spokesman told just-auto earlier this week there was no investor -yet. "There is nothing to announce - we do not talk about these talks with possible investors," he said.