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May 4, 2009 1:15 pm
Opel’s future owners may have to set up headquarters in Germany in order to obtain financial support from the German government, according to an internal paper by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, vice-chancellor and foreign minister.
According to the paper obtained by the Financial Times, all potential Opel buyers would have to state where they intended the company’s headquarters to be located and where it would pay tax.
The condition is one of 14 criteria Mr Steinmeier will use to evaluate any offer for the German arm of carmaker General Motors, which has attracted interest from Italy’s Fiat and a consortium led by Austrian-Canadian parts supplier Magna, among others.
Other criteria mentioned include the number of expected job losses, the future of Opel plants in Germany, the suitor’s past experience in conducting similar transactions, the solidity of the financial concepts and the buyer’s degree of acceptance among Opel’s workers.
Berlin has no say in which suitor will secure Opel, a decision that rests solely in the hands of General Motors. Yet the government has promised to support the future owner with credit guarantees and, as evidenced by the Steinmeier paper, is using its influence to shape the transaction.
Sergio Marchionne, Fiat chief executive, was in Berlin on Monday to present his plan to Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the economics minister, and to Mr Steinmeier following a similar presentation by Magna last week.
The fate of Opel has become part of the German electoral campaign ahead of the general election on September 27. The contest will pitch Angela Merkel, chancellor and chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, against Mr Steinmeier, who is heading the Social Democratic ticket.
Both sides would have to agree for the government to issue credit guarantees. But the political rivalry has seriously complicated the talks between potential investors and the government, forcing suitors to approach both Mr Guttenberg, as de facto representative of Ms Merkel, and Mr Steinmeier.
It has also led to heated exchanges between the two ministers.
Mr Guttenberg has accused Mr Steinmeier of siding too closely with Opel’s worker representatives, who have expressed misgivings about the Fiat approach, as part of his strategy to rally trade union support for his candidacy.
In a weekend interview, he said the foreign minister had “little command of the details” of the Opel situation and was being “groundlessly prejudiced against one possible investor.” He had earlier criticised Mr Steinmeier for giving hasty guarantees to the Opel workforce about Berlin’s backing for the company.
Mr Steinmeier, for his part, has accused Mr Guttenberg of endangering Opel’s future by ruling out a partial nationalisation of the carmaker. His SPD would support the acquisition of a government stake in Opel.
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