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Germany suppressing findings helpful to Opel, politician says

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Germany suppressing findings helpful to Opel, politician says

June 8, 2010 06:01 CET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- A senior German politician representing the interests of Opel workers in East Germany said the Berlin government was suppressing information that could bolster the case for granting 1.1 billion euros ($1.31 billion) in state aid to the General Motors Co. unit.

Thueringia's Economics Minister Matthias Machnig, a strident supporter for aid, said he suspected some opponents in Berlin were using "marked cards" to win a high stakes game of poker against Opel and its employees.

Machnig criticized a two-page statement he received at a meeting of a government-appointed council of independent experts considering Opel's request for state loan guarantees toward a 3.7 billion euro restructuring plan that will cut the unit's capacity and workforce by a fifth.

"It is unbelievable that the federal government to this day has refused to present the full findings of the steering council," Machnig said on Monday. "Obviously the government fears publishing the entire opinion."

Opel has a 190,000-unit capacity assembly plant that makes the Corsa subcompact in Eisenach, Thueringia.

So far, federal Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle has only said that the body of experts had been "very critical" of granting aid -- a position he strongly supports.

Four high-ranking officials from the German rescue fund, including Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief economic advisor Jens Weidman, are expected to recommend on Wednesday whether or not to risk taxpayer's money to backstop private-sector loans for Opel.

Merkel could compromise

Supporting Opel is a highly fractious issue in Chancellor Angela Merkel's center right party. Powerful regional allies in state governments home to Opel plants are lobbying for support while federal officials in both the parliament and her cabinet oppose it.

"In the end, I think Merkel's solution will be to seek a compromise," said one union official, who believes the chancellor will remain true to her middle-of-the road strategy by extending some aid.

Fearing a defeat, Opel labor leader Klaus Franz invited the German television stations to beam back pictures of hundreds of Opel workers rallying in front of the Frankfurt stock exchange on Monday to increase pressure on Merkel.

"Governments in Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Hungary and Poland have agreed to 800 million euros ... If Germany doesn't come through with loan guarantees, the other European countries will withdraw their support," Franz warned.

Carrying banners with slogans like "Don't leave us standing in the rain" and "Fighting back makes the difference", protesters blew on whistles and beat drums, hoping to be heard in far-away Berlin. Even the famous bronze Bull statue next to the exchange was dressed in a yellow "We are Opel" T-shirt with a red trade union cap hanging off one horn.

Influential ally

Opel has won an influential ally in Berthold Huber, the boss of Germany's largest trade union IG Metall, who also defends the interests of rival carmakers as well.

"This is not about abusing the German taxpayer as a dairy cow to be milked ... You won't be throwing money into bottomless banking towers," Huber said at the rally, reminding the government that Opel's workforce is doing its part by contributing 1.3 billion euros in wage concessions through 2014.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100608/ANE/306079907/1317#ixzz0qGuZHE00

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