Politicians across the German political spectrum have welcomed the sale of GM subsidiary Opel to France’s PSA Group, but longer-term concerns about jobs remain.
In a joint statement, the federal economic ministry and the leaders of three state governments which host Opel factories said: “Today’s signing is a first step towards combining Opel/Vauxhall and PSA into a European global player. It is good that commitments will be retained on production facilities, jobs, and investment, and that Opel/Vauxhall will continue as independent brands.”
The statement was issued by Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries and the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, both from the center-left Social Democrats, and the state premiers of Hesse and Thuringia, Volker Bouffier, of the center-right Christian Democrats, and Bodo Ramelow, from the socialist Left Party.
But the welcome came with a warning. Decisive steps must be taken, the statement said: “The deal has to be examined intensively, above all by labor representatives. As the process unfolds, transparency has to be guaranteed. The European management of Opel/Vauxhall and representatives of labor must be closely involved in further talks.”
“We don’t foresee radical cuts, and if anyone else does, we know how to defend ourselves.”
Ms. Zypries said she was personally “relieved and to a large extent happy” about the deal. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “We are counting on PSA to do everything to successfully develop Opel and its individual factories.”
The economic minister of Thuringia, Wolfgang Tiefensee, a Social Democrat, said he was “optimistic, because we have new Opel owners who speak European language, know the European and international markets, and who accept pay agreements with no ifs and buts.”
He welcomed PSA’s plans for a joint production platform, saying it could create economies of scale without job losses, and take Opel products into new markets.
The notes of caution from politicians were echoed by unions and other labor representatives. The head of the powerful industrial union IG Metall, which represents workers at Opel’s three German plants, said he saw the deal as fundamentally positive: “The two firms are active in different markets, so there are many synergies.”
Local labor leaders struck a more combative note. “There will not necessarily be job losses,” said Jörg Köhlinger, the head of IG Metall’s central region, which covers all of Opel’s German production facilities. “We don’t foresee radical cuts, and if anyone else does, we know how to defend ourselves,” he added.
There are limits to the pressure on Opel that German politicians can exert. They may look to Paris to exercise leverage on the merged carmaker, which will be Europe’s second-largest by market share. The French state has a 14-percent stake in PSA, and will participate in negotiations on the future of the new company.
“We have the chance to make use of our strong connections with the French government,” said one German politician on condition of anonymity, adding that strong support would be given to Opel’s labor representatives, so they were given a full voice in negotiations. “We will ensure that promises are kept,” said the source.
Germany’s deputy economics minister, Matthias Machnig, who coordinated the response of federal and state governments to the deal, said the unified PSA-Opel company was an improvement on the fragmented GM corporate structure. This would put Opel’s German workers and management in a stronger position, he said.
Mr. Machnig added that PSA had an interest in maintaining Opel’s brands, which are more valuable than PSA’s. This showed that PSA is a strong medium-term partner for Opel, he said.
Brian Hanrahan is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. Klaus Stratmann covers the energy market and is deputy chief of Handelsblatt’s political desk in Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org