FRANKFURT - Previous German pledges to provide state aid to carmaker Opel no longer apply now that General Motors has said it can restructure its European arm alone, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said.
GM Chairman (Ed) Whitacre has said that his company can handle Opel, so this means that agreements and pledges that were based on other concepts are moot, Bruederle told reporters on the sidelines of a financial industry conference on Monday.
Opel has the same right as any other German company to apply for state aid. We have a duty to examine this thoroughly. The outcome is open and there is no entitlement to have it approved, he added.
Senior members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet have sent conflicting signals over whether the government should provide aid to Opel. Bruederle, a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, has taken the hardest line.
In a weekend newspaper interview he left the door open to regional aid for Opel from the four German states where the carmaker has plants, but said he did not expect GM to come to Berlin for federal funds.
His comments appeared to contradict those of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, who told the Wirtschaftswoche weekly that the government could not refuse to provide aid now that GM had decided to hold onto Opel.
Berlin had pledged to contribute 4.5 billion euros ($6.74 billion) in financing as part of a takeover of Opel by Canadian auto parts group Magna. GM reversed course this month and decided it would rather keep Opel than sell a majority stake in it to Magna.
After its decision to keep Opel, GM is expected to present a restructuring plan for the carmaker, which employs about 50,000 staff in Europe, half of which are at four plants in Germany.
GM's Whitacre was quoted in a German newspaper last week as saying his company was financially strong enough to shoulder the costs of an Opel restructuring on its own. But GM Europe has said it will need help from governments.
Opel also has plants in Britain, Spain, Belgium and Poland.
(Reporting by and Christoph Steitz)