Germany, GM To Decide Opel's Future Soon

BERLIN (AP) -- The German government anticipates a visit this week from a General Motors Co. executive as Berlin pushes for a quick decision on the European Opel unit's future, an official said Monday.

The government hopes the executive will meet with Germany's "Opel task force" of federal and state officials, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said. He did not identify the manager or give more precise timing.

GM's board on Friday made no decision between bids for a majority in Opel from a consortium led by Canada's Magna International Inc. and Brussels-based investor RHJ International SA. It was unclear when it might decide.

"A decision needs to be made regarding Opel's future as quickly as possible," German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck was quoted as telling the Handelsblatt daily. "We are under time pressure, because the Opel employees need to finally know what is happening."

While the decision on Ruesselsheim, Germany-based Opel's buyer lies principally with GM, the government in Berlin is a player because it is offering financial help to make a deal possible.

Berlin's strong preference for the Magna-led group, which also includes Russian lender Sberbank, is causing friction with Detroit. GM has indicated that it would prefer RHJ because the Magna-Sberbank bid raises the possibility of patents and other intellectual property falling into competitors' hands.

Wilhelm said there was contact at "working level" over the weekend between the German chancellery and the White House, and between the chancellery and GM. The automaker is now 60.8 percent owned by the U.S. government.

Steinbrueck charged GM was seeking to indirectly retain Opel through RHJ.

"My impression is that the General Motors management favors investor RHJ International because it will make it easier for them to buy back Opel in a couple of years," Steinbrueck was quoted as saying.

In addition, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to inform her "how the discussion is going here," spokesman Jens Ploetner said.

"It is important that we do not have confrontations here," Wilhelm told a regular government news conference. "This issue can be resolved not through confrontation, but only together."

He dismissed suggestions that the issue was becoming a problem for U.S.-German relations.

"I can see no strain on trans-Atlantic relations in this question," he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the weekend said that it was necessary for a decision to be made by GM as soon as possible "for the employees, and also for the economic situation at Opel."

Opel's top employee representative, Klaus Franz, told Deutschlandfunk radio Monday that "our patience is absolutely at an end."

If there is no decision by GM by the end of this week, employees could take "spectacular measures," he added. He did not elaborate.

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