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Germany

German Minister: GM Has Given In on Opel Stake

After talks with GM bosses in Washington, German Economics Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has said carmaker Opel could be separated from its ailing parent company. But a deal is far from done.

Guttenberg, Wagoner and GM chief operations officer Henderson Frederick

Guttenberg, right, was all smiles after meeting with GM execs

Guttenberg's remarks came amidst a trip to the American capital that will see the German economics minister meet with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council.

On Monday, March 16, Guttenberg met with the head of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, for talks about the troubled automotive giant and its European subsidiary.

Germany would like to see greater independence for Opel so that the state could take measures to save the carmaker without pouring money into GM.

General Motors had previously refused to reduce its stake in Opel, but in what became a game of brinksmanship, Detroit appears to have blinked first.

GM Opel logos

Berlin would like to help Opel without funding GM

"There's been one important concession," Guttenberg told reporters. "They've made it clear that they're prepared to take a minority holding. That's important if we're to re-define the concept of General Motors in Europe."

Berlin is keen to ensure that any money allocated for bailing out Opel in Europe does not get redirected to GM in America.

The Detroit carmaker also signaled willingness to compromise on patents and licenses that might be developed by a reformed Opel. And Guttenberg said a mediator would be appointed to liaise between the company and the German government.

Some 29,000 people are employed at Opel's German facilities. But a lot would still need to happen to convince the German government to take a stake in the company.

Search for a savior

Protesting Opel worker

Some 50,000 Opel-related jobs in Germany are at stake


Guttenberg has repeatedly stressed that any solution aimed at saving Opel must include private investors.

Thus far, no one has stepped up to buy a major share in the European carmaker, though that could change.

"There have been some inquiries I would think of as serious, but GM, as the parent company, needs to react to them," Guttenberg told the German public broadcaster ARD. "Until now this reaction has been missing."

Another complication is the fact that GM has used patent rights and shares as collateral for the loans it has taken out from the US government. Guttenberg is expected to raise that issue with his American counterpart Timothy Geithner when they meet later on Tuesday.

GM itself has two weeks to present a rescue plan to Washington -- or risk losing state support. More and more critics are skeptical about whether it makes sense to invest in the automotive giant.

Still, Guttenberg seems confident that the conditions for a solution for Opel, if not the solution itself, have been created.

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