Merkel urged to stand up to Obama on Opel jobs

BERLIN, Aug 2, 2009 (AFP) - Amid transatlantic tensions over a state-backed takeover of stricken car company Opel, a German state leader Sunday urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to pressure Washington to back a plan that saves jobs.

Thuringia premier Dieter Althaus of Merkel's Christian Democrats called on the chancellor to lobby the White House to support Canadian group Magna's bid to buy Opel over that of Belgian investment group RHJ International.

"I am operating on the assumption that Chancellor Angela Merkel will use her influence with US President Barack Obama in the interest of Opel employees," Althaus told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Germany is offering up to 4.5 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) in cheap loans and loan guarantees as part of a rescue deal for Opel, General Motors' European arm, and strongly backs Magna's bid because it fears RHJ would slash jobs.

The debate comes in the heated atmosphere of the campaign for the September 27 general election in Germany as well as the country's worst postwar recession, with tens of thousands of jobs on the line.

Althaus, whose state hosts an Opel plant in the town of Eisenach, said a plan in which the protection of German jobs was not taken into account was a non-starter.

"The loan guarantees from the (German) federal government and the states are available for the Magna scheme but not for that of a competitor which would put Opel's future at risk again," Althaus said.

"The only plan that foresees a future for Opel plants in Germany is Magna's."

GM and Magna have signed a non-binding letter of intent on Opel's sale, but their talks have hit a snag and the RHJ offer has allowed GM to negotiate with Magna from a stronger position.

Magna's bid, which is backed by Kremlin-controlled Russian bank Sberbank, enjoys the support of Berlin, the four states where Opel has factories and the country's powerful trade unions but the final decision remains with GM.

General Motors , which is thought to favour RHJ, has exited bankruptcy protection under US government-backed initiatives and last month transferred its main assets to a new government-financed company.

Source: AFP

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