A certain website that concerns itself with facts about automobiles, had opined more than a month ago: “Once matters move to Brussels, they come to a crawl. Whoever wins the German elections has all the time they want to dispose of Opel. If it goes kaput, they can blame the Americans and Brussels.”
The Opel matter finally moved to Brussels. EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said, she could set aside her considerable qualms about the GM-Opel-Magna-Sperbank deal, if only all parties involved would send her a simple letter that certifies that the deal had not been reached under political pressure. All parties involved, meaning GM, the Opel Trust that officially owns Opel, and the German government. Scout’s honor. Cross your heart, and swear to … exactly.
Ms. Kroes stuck a monstrous Morton’s fork into the deal: If the letters are sent, and if an EU probe finds that there was pressure, then the authors can be subject to painfully substantial fines, the €1.5b bridge loan may have to be refunded, Opel is dead, all parties involved will be in a world of hurt.
If the letters are not sent, then the deal is dead because the EU will sprout a Brussels-sized inquisition, they will not approve the deal because the parties concerned will have already admitted that there was pressure, the bridge loan may have to be refunded, all parties involved will be in a world of hurt.
Was there pressure? Do ursines defecate in the forest? From Berlin on down through the states to the unions, one thing was made clear: No Magna, no money. There was so much pressure that meetings were only survivable wearing a diving helmet. There was so much pressure that Berlin’s own boys in the Opel Trust complained about telephone terror by politicians. In the end, Manfred Wennemer as representative of the Berlin government voted against, and Dirk Pfeil as representative of the states abstained when the Opel Trust had to decide on accepting the deal. The deal was approved with the votes of the GM representatives, who hated it, but had a German gun to their heads. There was so much pressure that Wennemer was lambasted in Berlin after the vote.
GM had been under so much pressure that their lawyers undoubtedly said such a letter would amount to a suicide note. There is no letter from GM. Instead, it was leaked all over the German press that GM has serious legal issues with such a note. “We were given no other alternative than Magna,” an unnamed GM source is quoted in Financial Times. Translation: “Hell yes, we’ll readily admit there was pressure!”
The Opel Trust is likewise hesitant when it comes to penning a letter to Nellie. “We haven’t sent a letter to Brussels,” Opel Trust member Dirk Pfeil said to the Frankfurter Allgemeine. Pfeil had never liked the Opel deal.
The only party to send a letter to Brussels was the German government. Economy Minister von und zu Guttenberg assured Kroes that the €4.5b would be open to any Opel buyer on a strictly non-discriminatory basis. Easy for him to say. He also was against the Magna deal, approved it only for reasons of political expedience. Now that the elections are over, and his boys have won, von Guttenberg would like nothing more than pressure from Brussels. He could blame it on Brussels, could say “we tried our best,” and could renegotiate the whole deal until Opel dies.
Opel would not survive the operation. Opel is running out of time and out of money. According to the Financial Times, Berlin’s €1.5b bridge loan will be burned by the end of the year, in light of a current cash conflagration to the tune of €300m a month.
And who puts a happy face on the whole ordeal? Fritz “the Cat” Henderson. He expects the Opel deal to close this week, says Reuters. Is there a doctor in the house?