German Government defends Opel Deal

euronews-The German government is confident it can resolve the European Union’s doubts on the Opel deal.

Eyebrows have been raised in Brussels over 4.5 billion euros of state aid for the ailing car-maker.

The EU Competition Commissioner is concerned that the German government’s offer was contingent on the sale of the carmaker going to Canada’s Magna.

German Economy Minister, Karl-Theodor Zu Guttenberg said: “In the last few months there must have been some unclear statements made, definitely not by me, and if misunderstandings need to be cleared up then we should do this. I’m sure that we will be able to do this over the next few days.”

The German government has stated numerous times a clear preference for the Magna bid as it offers the most promising future and safeguards for German jobs. Angela Merkel even promised to intervene personally to ensure Magna clinched the deal.

General Motors plans to sell a 55% stake in Opel to Magna, a car parts group with Russian backers.

The EU is concerned the deal is against competition rules

Opel employs about 50,000 people with factories across Europe.

The sale has yet to be finalised, but it has worried other EU member states which accuse Berlin of offering aid to limit job cuts in Germany.

Seniors vote more on German elections than any other age group

There are seventeen million senior citizens in Germany, and they vote more than any other age group. Their influence means they are heavily courted by all parties. So in July pensions for the over 65s went up by 2.4%, despite zero inflation.

Thank you very much the Grand Coalition, except that the leaders of the CDU and SPD have also made their pensions untouchable. A new law puts a deadlock on pension cuts, even if salaries fall.

The right in Germany has always been able to count on the grey third of the electorate until now, but the Joshka Fischer generation is retiring. The times, they are a’changing says analyst Manfred Forsa:

“The elderly are naturally more loyal voters than other age groups, but they are starting to break with that tradition. In coming years this trend will mean the end of cradle to grave party loyalty.”

And the young will be in a battle for the votes of the old.

Threats cloud German election and Oktoberfest

Extremist threats are casting a shadow over the annual Munich Beer Festival and last minute campaigning in Germany’s general election.

Security has been stepped up across the country after videos warning of attacks by Islamic militants were posted on the web. But they have not derailed the festivities or the campaign climax.

In one clip a man claiming to represent the Taliban warned of a “rude awakening” if Germans returned a government committed to keeping troops in Afghanistan.

Analysts do not believe it will influence the outcome. Professor Nils Diederich of Berlin’s Free University said:

“It would certainly be different if the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats for instance, would advocate an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. But only the Left Party is for an immediate withdrawal and it doesn’t play such an important role for voters.”

Germany has more than 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. A man has been arrested in connection with one of the videos.

Nuclear scandal excites German campaign

Claims that a controversial atomic energy report has been buried by a German cabinet minister have pushed nuclear power back into the election headlines. The scandal threatens to become a political hot potato less than two weeks before the vote, with many Germans deeply wary of nuclear plants and how to handle its waste.

The German edition of the respected Financial Times newspaper claims Research Minister Annette Schavan has been sitting on plans for new atomic plants, despite an official policy of phasing them out. Indeed, Berlin has just approved the building of thousands of new wind turbines in the Baltic, to appease critics who say they are ugly and ruin the countryside.

The nuclear issue is unlikely to harm Chancellor Angela Merkel as she heads into an election as the expected victor. But it gives her rival Frank-Walter Steinmeier an opportunity to attack her, especially as she is eyeing a post-election coalition with the Free Democrats, who have long been keen supporters of atomic energy.

CDU threatened by nuclear waste fallout

In Germany, fresh claims about nuclear contamination have threatened to derail the Christian Democrats election campaign.

The Enviroment Minister said the CDU government in the 1980’s tampered with a report to play down the risks of using Gorleben as a permament site for atomic waste.

It is claimed that under the leadership of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Germany’s research ministry asked the federal agency in charge to alter its findings about the site.

According to the agency’s report at the time there was a risk that radioactive substances could seep into the ground water, making the site unsuitable for long-term storage.

The German daily, Suddeutsche Zeitung first published the revelations earlier this week.

Yesterday, Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, upped the ante by calling for an inquiry: “We need a total open and transparent procedure, and not this hide and seek game and secret diplomacy, that has been performed concerning Gorleben in the past.”

But the former Research Minister is rejecting claims of a cover-up.

“I don’t know whether the report had been altered, because I haven’t seen this report neither in its earlier state nor in its later state, and that is none of my business. A ministry works like this: we rely on those who do the work,” said Heinz Riesenhuber.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s camp has pledged to complete checks of all Gorleben files, dating back to the 1980’s but serious damage may already have been inflicted on her party, which has made clear its continuing support for nuclear power.

Although Germany’s remaining 17 reactors are scheduled to go offline by 2020 – the CDU party wants to revise the law and extend their operating life.

The use of nuclear energy is not the explosive issue it once was for the German electorate, with
polls suggesting only 7 percent of Germans back the government’s proposals.

GM picks Magna for Opel-Vauxhall sale

Car workers across Europe await their fate as the sale of General Motors’ European marques – Opel and Vauxhall – goes ahead.

Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna will take a majority stake with financial backing from a Russian state bank.

GM had to sell as it plunged towards bankruptcy in the United States.

John Smith, GM’s chief Opel negotiator said: “General Motors is confident, that the Magna-Sberbank solution really represents the best solution to provide for a sustainable future for the Opel and Vauxhall brands.”

GM opted for Magna and its Russian partners over a rival offer from Belgium based investment firm RHJInternational.

The Magna deal was backed by Berlin as it promised fewer job losses in Germany; that is important for Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a general election later this month.

She told reporters: “It is clear that the German government’s patience and purpose has paid off. It was not an easy path. It is now possible for General Motors Europe and Opel to have a new beginning.”

With Berlin promising 4.5 billion euros in government loan guarantees, it was quickly confirmed none of the four German plants will close but Antwerp in Belgium will shut.

Unions at Vauxhall’s two UK factories said they are waiting for work and remained concerned.

Restructuring will mean some 10,000 jobs will go at the European plants, a quarter of those in Germany.

One Opel worker was reconciled: “There’s no doubt it’s not going to easy even with Magna and there will be cuts. But there are opportunities and that’s the bottom line.”

Another worker said “at least the uncertainty is over now, Magna was the least bad option.”

Many details have still to be worked out but GM said it expected the deal to close in a few months.

German Chancellor Merkel regrets Afghan deaths

In the German Parliament, the Bundestag,German Chancellor Angela Merkel spelled out the government’s position regarding the recent Nato-led air attack in Afghanistan that reportedly killed civilians as well as Taliban insurgents.

She said, “Innocent injured and dead following German involvement, that is something I deeply regret.”

However, the Chancellor was in no mood to go along with much of the widespread criticism of the German military decision of call in an allied air strike last Friday.

“I also want to stress that we don’t accept pre-judgements. I won’t accept that from any quarter whether in Germany or elsewhere.”

Merkel told the Bundestag the question of civilian casualties in the air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban is still to be cleared up.

She justified the involvement of German troops in Afghanistan pointing out that the local population does not want to be abandoned.

The German Chancellor insisted that following the recent Afghan presidential election the time has come for the leadership in Afghanistan to take over more responsibility for its own security. Merkel noted that talks should take place later this year to develop the proposal by Germany, France and Britain to help re-build Afghanistan politically and economically.