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Germany

No Breakthrough for Guttenberg on Opel's Future

With 26,000 German jobs hanging in the balance, all eyes were on new Economics Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as he visited the US to rescue GM's Opel unit. But what, if anything, did he really achieve?

German Economics Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg poses in Times Square, New York

He wants to be a part of it: Guttenberg in New York

Guttenberg was all smiles in his many photo opportunities during stops in New York and Washington earlier this week. Indeed, he said he was "very pleased" with the outcome of talks with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and General Motors head Richard Wagoner. The future of the troubled carmaker's European subsidiary, Opel, was growing brighter, he said.

But Germany's 26,000 Opel workers and an equal number of European workers whose jobs depend on Opel's survival were undoubtedly hoping for something more -- an actual concept from GM's leadership outlining their vision for the future, for example.

As it is, Guttenberg was only able to say that GM "supports a European structure for Opel" and "is prepared to find solutions that would also authorize a minority participation by GM."

GM has asked European states to put forth 3.3 billion euros ($4.3 billion) to help the struggling auto giant and its European workers. But Germany wants assurances from the US government that any German public money for Opel would not end up in Detroit. A minority share for GM in a yet-to-be-created joint operation of GM's European subsidiaries would likely fulfill this requirement.

Vague assurances from US

Clouds over an Opel factory

The clouds hanging over Opel's future have not yet lifted

German media reports have been critical of Guttenberg for praising the openness of his talks and the "considerable progress" made when proposals from the US, they say, remain too vague.

In an interview aired on ZDF public television, Guttenberg said that Germany and the US would "proceed together" on a solution, but he didn't elaborate. He said that Germany "is still waiting for a substantial concept by the parent company."

Opel's fate still depends heavily on what decision the US government makes about GM's own recovery plan, a decision that is expected by a deadline of March 31. German news magazine Der Spiegel has reported that among the German delegation that accompanied Guttenberg, there is "frustration" at the stance GM is taking.

"One official said it was 'unbelievable' how GM had behaved in talks over recent week," the magazine wrote. "There's not much faith in the figures the US auto giant has been quoting in talks."

Rather than a triumphant return for Guttenberg, then, it seems his US visit will leave Opel workers worrying and hoping that somehow, the German government will offer them the security they crave.

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