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European Globalization Fund

Agnes Bührig / db December 18, 2012

Opel is due to stop making cars at its Bochum factory in 2016 - a scenario Swedish automakers are all too familiar with. But a year after Saab went bankrupt, many ex-workers have found work with the help of the EU.

Workers at the Swedish car manufacturer Saab Automobile leave the factory in Trollhattan, . AFP PHOTO / BJORN LARSSON ROSVALL / SCANPIX SWEDEN (Photo credit should read BJORN LARSSON ROSVALL / SCANPIX/AFP/Getty Images)

Thomas Lanz has a new workplace in a small wood cabin in the countryside, not far from Trollhättan in southwestern Sweden. Standing at the stove in the kitchen, the former Saab instrument engineer heats a stew for Stefan, 50, and mentally impaired. Thomas is Stefan's care provider. Today, Thomas Lanz regards the fact that he lost his job after nearly 40 years with the Swedish carmaker as a chance to try something new. "The insolvency made me venture into a new profession," Lanz says, adding he had already developed an interest in people when he worked in the union. "I found out that it suits me."

About two-thirds of Saab's roughly 1,400 former industrial workers have found new jobs. Thanks also to EU financial aid, 200 are self-employed or, like Thomas Lanz, have learned new skills. The EU provided Sweden with about five million euros ($ 6.6 million) from its Globalization Fund - financial aid designed to cushion the impact of the global economic crisis.

That crisis has really hit Trollhättan, says Magnus Nordberg, news chief at the regional TTELA newspaper. "What happened with Saab is a singular incident, but Trollhättan and the entire region strongly depend on the repair shops industry, which is struggling," Nordberg says. "The Saab insolvency was followed by announcements of job cuts elsewhere - and the Saab closure was already the last thing we could use here."

Record unemployment in Trollhättan

At present, the city of 55,000 inhabitants has an unemployment rate of about 16 percent - twice as high as the Swedish national average. A few companies that operate worldwide dominate Trollhättan's business life, and they are affected by the slump in the global economy.

Foto DW/Agnes Bührig 29.11.2012, 16:48:22
Memories of better times in TrollhättanImage: DW/A. Bührig

Niklas Pettersson, who is responsible for the ex-Saab workers at Trollhättan's employment office, welcomes the EU funds as a chance for change. "With the help of the EU funds, we can implement plans we have been working on for a long time," he says. "We will coordinate education schemes and focus on professions that need workers, such as the health care sector. This is our chance for a long-term reorganization."

Millions from EU coffers

More than 400 former Saab workers have registered to be retrained in courses financed by the EU's Globalization Fund. The fund also grants relocation assistance as well as financial aid to ex-Saab workers planning to become self-employed.

Trollhättan is experiencing an upheaval of sorts, with positive aspects like the fact that the majority of the unemployed former Saab workers have found new jobs overshadowed by the poor international economic situation.

Meanwhile, Thomas Lanz is not surprised that, after selling Saab, General Motors (GM) plans to stop producing Opel automobiles in the western German city of Bochum. Lanz argues GM made quite a few mistakes where Saab was concerned. "General Motors deprived us of the chance to continue the unique Saab concept so special to customers; the special design."

There used to be room for creativity, Lanz says. "Once GM was on board, every division became standardized."