The Great Debate UK
Germans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe's biggest economy for the last four years.
This should mean an end to "steady as she goes" lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country's tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.
Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, a cautious centrist, made clear in her first post-election comments that she she would not allow a radical lurch to the right. She promised to be the "chancellor of all Germans" -- old and young, entrepreneurs and workers -- and said the conseravtives would be sufficiently dominant in the new coalition to prevail "in questions that affect social balance".
The new government faces tough economic challenges in what is bound to be a more polarised political atmosphere, with the Social Democrats in opposition. The economy is expected to contract by at least 5 percent this year, and export-led growth is likely to return only slowly. Unemployment is set to explode in the coming months as short-time work schemes run out. The budget deficit is set to top 6 percent of gross domestic product next year, more than twice the EU limit. So 2010 will be an extremely difficult year. But there are some problems that are even more urgent.
The number of London's trademark black taxis booked and waiting outside the European headquarters of Goldman Sachs -- meters running -- was once used by some as a barometer of the health of London's investment banking business.
When times were good, the queue was long and it was impossible for anyone else in the vicinity to hail a cab. But when the fees dried up, or markets turned, the cabbies who'd been at Goldman's beck and call suddenly had to find new customers.
Jose Manuel Barroso promised the European Parliament that as re-elected president of the European Commission he will have more authority to fight for Europe and defend its single market against economic nationalism.
But after five years of toadying to the big member states, he will need to show more spine to enforce state aid and competition rules on Germany, Britain and France in the teeth of strong national financial or commercial interests.
With the Opel sale grinding along, the U.S. automaker is also in the process of offloading its Saab brand to luxury sportscar maker Koenigsegg.
Financing is the major sticking point in the Saab sale process. Koenigsegg -- backed by U.S. and Norwegian investors -- reached a deal in June to buy Saab from GM but the process then stalled.
Good news: global car capacity is being cut by 700,000 vehicles. Bad news: the company doing the cutting is the world's most efficient manufacturer, Toyota.
Across the world, governments are pledging money to keep local plants open, mostly plants which have no long-term future, and which are far less efficient than the production line in Japan that Toyota is closing.
John Smith (no relation, but I'm impressed by his negotiating) maintains in his blog that GM will compare the latest Magna offer with the proposal it has on the table from Belgium-based financial investor RHJ International.
It's not often you get to lift the hood and watch a power struggle going on in the engine room of General Motors. But the vice-president of GM Europe, John Smith, has just provided tantilising details of the arguments over the rival bids for Opel/Vauxhall, the main European arm of the fallen U.S. auto giant. Smith is the chief negotiator on the sale of Opel.
In a blog apparently intended to reassure Opel staff, but accessible to the public, he insisted GM had not specified a preferred bidder. But he made clear his own preference for the bid from Belgian financial investor RHJ International, which is loosely related to U.S. private equity fund Ripplewood, over the offer by Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna and its Kremlin-backed Russian partner Sberbank.
Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.
The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September's general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM's board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel's works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.
Mon Dieu! Are the Germans starting to behave like the French?
Berlin’s efforts to salvage carmaker Opel from the wreckage of U.S. auto giant General Motors pose as big a challenge to Europe’s single market as French attempts earlier this year to tie loans to its carmakers to keeping jobs and factories in France.
from The Great Debate:
Could Italy's cash-strapped Fiat, Europe's sixth auto maker, build a workable alliance with Chrysler and Opel to become be a profitable global player? Or would it be a marriage of losers, doomed to fail?
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has made clear that his interest in Opel, the European arm of ailing General Motors, is more than just a well-timed tactic to get better terms in the alliance he is negotiating with troubled U.S. number three Chrysler. Chrysler faces likely bankruptcy if a deal is not clinched by April 30.