The German auto company
OPEL is reportedly preparing a spin-off from its US parent company General Motors
(GM). The company's powerful chairman of the workers' council, Klaus Franz, has
said that fresh capital by the German government would provide for
a "European solution" to the crisis in GM's global auto empire.
Precisely eight decades after the cultic brand became part of GM, such
a move enables OPEL "to operate autonomously for the first time and
not to become a victim of the disaster of GM", he added.
This sadly reminds me of the cool stance German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck took when the first signs of the evolving financial crisis could be witnessed in the US about a year ago. He then plainly said: "this is your problem, not ours; you created the mess, so you better clean it up yourself!" As someone who feels like a true "Atlanticist" and who has been dealing with transatlantic issues for many years, such national-egoist rhetoric upsets me. Have we learned nothing at all from history? On both sides of the Atlantic, the answer to that question seems to be no. The transatlantic rift in solidarity, present for many years in the security realm, has now become visible in the economic sector.
It is legitimate that unions and taxpayers demand that government money remains within national boundaries: as the US government takes care of GM, attaching political conditions to its aid, Germany does so with OPEL. But how can an affiliate of a company as integrated as GM seriously hope to go it alone in these difficult days for the auto industry? Have the OPEL managers ever heard of this thing called "globalization"?
As someone having at least a basic understanding of business, I cannot believe that everything which has been true until some months ago shall now no longer be valid. I think that at least our elected leaders should understand what is at stake here. If they cannot or don't want to, we must remind them. A global depression like the one in 1929 is looming. Everybody remembers what happened back then. Politics must get this message across to the people instead of falling back on short-term populist measures.
There is only one solution to this crisis: European and North American leaders must engage, using existing forums, and try to cooperate and deal with this global financial crisis. If we don't, we will all lose. Politicians must be honest with their constituents and tell them that this is the only strategy that will work in the long run. It has to improve on how these issues are communicated to the public. This is not an easy task. What is needed now is true leadership and courage on both sides of the Atlantic: Obama and European leaders must talk to each other and take brave action.
It is a promising sign that Germany's newly elected Economic Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg announced that Germany will work closely with the US on the GM/OPEL crisis. A joint working group has already been set up in order to determine the future course of action, and Guttenberg himself will travel to the US in mid-March in order to talk to US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. It remains to be seen, however, if the German government really has the courage to take tough decisions in the end. There are 28,000 jobs at risk in Germany and this is the "super election year", with European, National and Provincial elections looming on the horizon. We shall all monitor closely what happens in Washington and Berlin in the weeks to come.
Christoph Suess is a Freelance Reporter for the Main-Echo, Bavaria, writing on political and local issues.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Tyson Barker: The Case for Germany First
- Markus Drake: Germany Wins on Globalization, but Not All Germans are Winners
- Soyen Park: The Legacy of the Financial Crisis Awaits Us in 2020