Opel teeters on the brink as politicians scrap for influence

The Opel factory in Eisenach was within hours of being closed two weeks ago, with preparations made for a meeting to tell the 1,800 workers of its demise – a meeting only cancelled by the resignation of the GM boss in the USA.

Opel teeters on the brink as politicians scrap for influence
The pose everyone wants Photo: DPA

Business weekly magazine Wirtschaftswoche reports this weekend that only the removal of Rick Wagoner, who was forced to resign on March 29 by US President Barack Obama, stopped the move to close the factory.

Eisenach factory manager Ralph Fürderer is said to have been told to call a meeting of the workforce to tell them of imminent closure.

The replacement of Wagoner by Fritz Henderson, who as former head of GM Europe is said to have more sympathy for Opel, halted that plan, and raised hopes somewhat that the brand might be rescued.

Fürderer told the magazine he was checking many decisions made at the company, and would be looking at a number of options, including the closure of Eisenach. He said there had been no direct order to announce the closure of the factory, but agreed that its future remains unknown.

Meanwhile a curious tussle is being reported between the coalition partners in the German government – for more rather than less responsibility regarding the desperate car firm.

News magazine Focus reports that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel for more involvement in the Opel case.

He heads the campaign for the Social Democrats (SPD) against Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the September general election, a situation which pitches the two top figures in the government against each other while still having to work together.

The magazine said the rivals have agreed that after Easter, Monday meetings in the Chancellery on the subject will include a junior minister from the Foreign Ministry.

Steinmeier has long demanded an Opel taskforce be established in the Chancellery, but until now, there has only been a negotiations team headed by a junior minister from the Economics Ministry, which is led by Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The SPD says the new group is effectively the task force it had wanted – with the crucial Foreign Ministry involvement, but the Chancellery says it represents no more than an informative forum for those ministries interested in the subject.

When he went to the US last month, Steinmeier held talks on the future of Opel, putting his hat into the ring as potential hero should the company be saved.


Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

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‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.