The German trust set up to oversee Opel said on Monday it saw no reason to re-open the sale of the carmaker despite EU concerns that Berlin's promises of state aid had skewed the bidding process.
Seeking to deflate a row over 4.5 billion euros ($6.72 billion) in state aid that Germany promised to Opel should Canadian auto parts firm Magna get the nod, the Opel Trust said business logic and not political factors had dictated the choice of a buyer.
We expect that the process will not need to be restarted, a Trust spokesman said. It is now the federal government's task to clear up misunderstandings with the EU.
European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes wrote to Berlin last week expressing concern that its promises of aid had slanted the bidding process in favor of Magna.
She said former Opel parent General Motors and the Trust should get assurances from Germany that no strings were attached to the Opel sale and be allowed to reconsider their choice of Magna and its Russian partner Sberbank .
Germany has now written to GM and the Opel Trust, giving them the assurance we asked for, Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd had said earlier in Brussels.
Germany's Economy Ministry said it had forwarded Kroes' letter to GM and to the Trust, which took a controlling stake in Opel to keep the European carmaker from being swept into GM's brief dip into bankruptcy.
We do not expect this to lead to fundamental problems, a ministry spokesman said, adding that only GM could say whether it still wanted to go ahead with the sale to Magna.
GM Europe declined comment.
The back-and-forth between Berlin and Brussels has delayed a formal signing of the Opel sale contract, leaving its 50,000 staff on tenterhooks.
The Opel Trust approved a sale to Magna but only when a government-appointed trustee with reservations about the deal abstained.
The trustee Dirk Pfeil, a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, renewed his objections on Monday, telling Reuters he would still rather see Opel stay with GM.
If GM reorganized Opel with German government help that would be the best solution for everyone involved, he said. That would also be the cheapest option for German taxpayers.
Brussels-listed holding company RHJ International , which had bid for Opel, said it was no longer interested in the carmaker, having agreed to buy UK wealth management unit Kleinwort Benson from Commerzbank last week.
We have moved on. Financial services is now our priority, a spokesman said.
Italian carmaker Fiat and China's Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC), which had also been interested in Opel, declined to comment.
The office of British Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson said going ahead with the sale of Opel to Magna was contingent on satisfying Brussels.
We have advised the German government and Magna from the outset that the Commission would have to give clearance and that is why there had to be no real or apparent shortcomings in the process, a spokesperson said. There is no alternative to following the rules. We hope this will not be delayed.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Rene Wagner in Berlin and Fang Yan in Shanghai; Writing by Michael Shields and Noah Barkin; Editing by Jason Neely)