EU Ministers Concerned About GM Europe’s Future

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Belgium, Sweden and other smaller EU nations pushed Germany at EU talks on Friday to clarify its plans to salvage jobs at General Motors' European operations.

Several EU countries are increasingly worried that Germany will attempt to negotiate an aid deal with General Motors Corp.'s Opel subsidiary that would favor German jobs and plants over others elsewhere in the EU.

To assuage such worries, EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen called urgent talks among EU countries that are home to GM car plants. The meeting is separate from talks held in Germany which include officials from Opel and its bidders.

The EU is increasingly worried over the fate of GM Europe and job losses at its brands, such as Opel, Vauxhall and Saab. It has operations in Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Spain, and Hungary.

"Member states which have a special interest ... need to know what is happening," Verheugen told reporters.

Swedish Enterprise Minister Maud Olofsson said she wanted to ensure the German government does not negotiate an exclusive deal with GM to the detriment of other countries that also house plants and operations linked to GM.

Several EU countries have complained that the U.S. car giant is trying to play EU member states off against each other to get more aid out of them.

"If we have a state aid race in Europe it will create a lot of difficulties especially for the smaller countries and we decided not to have a state aid race," said Olofsson.

Germany is looking for an agreement that will shield Opel -- which employs 25,000 people in Germany -- from a looming GM bankruptcy court filing and extensive restructuring. The government wants to make it legally independent under a trustee, then provide bridge financing while Opel looks for a new, permanent owner.

Officials in Berlin are also in talks with one of two suitors -- Canadian auto parts maker Magna, which submitted a bid along with Russian lender Sberbank. Italy's Fiat Group SpA said earlier Friday that it would not attend the meeting because it did not agree to extra funding requirements made by the German government. GM and the U.S. Treasury Department are also part of the negotiations.

"We want them to take account of our concerns," said Belgian Economy Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne. "It's a European problem. We are calling for a European solution rather than a national one."

Peter Hintze, Germany's deputy economy minister reassured his EU counterparts that Germany was not out just for itself in leading talks with GM.

"I want to make clear that Germany has taken the initiative, but this initiative will be beneficial for all European member states," he said. "If an interim loan is agreed to, supported by public money, then this will be independent of the individual production sites and will be good for all of Europe."

EU officials said they did not expect any conclusions from Friday's EU meeting but instead a briefing from Germany as to how talks with GM and possible investors were going.

In Europe, GM sells its vehicles in over 40 markets. It operates 10 vehicle-production and assembly facilities in seven countries and employs around 54,500 people. Many additional directly related jobs are provided by some 8,700 independent sales and service outlets.