German minister: Saving Opel could mean job cuts

Germany's economy minister said Friday that European jobs could be cut no matter which of three bidders is selected to invest in or acquire General Motors' embattled Opel unit, but he did not name a favorite.

"Regardless of which concept is selected, some, a minimal number of jobs Europe-wide would be in danger," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said after a meeting in Berlin of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cabinet members and governors from the four German states with Opel factories.

Earlier, two governors had praised a bid from Canadian auto parts maker Magna International, but a third rejected it as "not acceptable."

Magna was one of three companies to submit bids Wednesday to GM to acquire or invest in Opel, along with Italy's Fiat and New York-based buyout firm Ripplewood Holdings.

Govs. Roland Koch and Dieter Althaus said they saw Magna's bid as the most promising, but did not explain the details of the plan.

"I think it's right for us to ... concentrate on what is at the moment the most interesting offer, which has come from the Magna group," said Koch, governor of Hesse, where Opel's headquarters are based. Althaus is governor in Thuringia, where Opel has a factory.

But Gov. Juergen Ruettgers said Magna's offer is "not acceptable" because it foresaw cutting too many jobs at Opel's Bochum factory, located in his state of North Rhine-Wesphalia.

"Basically it is a good concept, but it is too heavily weighed toward cutting jobs in Bochum," Ruettgers said.

Their dissent reflects each leaders' interest in preserving as many jobs as possible within their home state ahead of a September parliamentary election. All three governors are members of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Details of the bids by Magna, Fiat and Ripplewood Holdings have not been released, although Fiat has said it wants to wrap GM Europe, including Opel and British sister brand Vauxhall, into a global car-making powerhouse along with Chrysler.

The Fiat bid has raised worries among some politicians and union officials of potentially large job losses and plant closures, although Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has sought to allay those fears, meeting with government and union leaders and saying he would keep all four German factories open.

On Friday, Fiat said its offer calls for less than 10,000 job cuts across Europe — far fewer than analysts had speculated. Union officials have suggested that up to 18,000 jobs could be in danger.

GM faces a June 1 deadline to restructure or file for bankruptcy. Berlin is keen to ensure the future of Opel — which employs some 25,000 people in Germany, nearly half GM Europe's total work force.

"Magna has put forward an interesting concept, but one that also raises questions," Guttenberg said after Friday's meeting. He added that a "basic decision" for Opel's future should be made by next week.

German officials stress that it is up to GM to choose Opel's investor, while Berlin will decide whether and how to lend state support to the selected bidder.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is opposing Merkel in federal elections set for September, said he preferred Magna's bid. "All three are still in play, but everyone has agreed that Magna will be given priority in handling," Steinmeier told reporters.

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