German Papers Opel Strike Runs out of Gas

Opel cuts have Germans scared, the European Union bickers about homosexuality and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer offers some off-kilter World War II analogies.

German newspapers present a gloomy world portrait Thursday, with editorialists focusing mainly on the grudging return to work of Opel employees in the western German industrial city of Bochum. Workers there had laid down their work late last week following a surprise announcement by Opel's parent, General Motors, that 12,000 jobs will be slashed by the end of 2005. Around 10,000 cuts expected from the company's German subsidiaries. Economics and Labor Minister Wolfgang Clement has even vowed to step in and help hinting he will fly to Detroit to help solve the crisis.

The tabloid Bild, befitting its role as hysterical gadfly, splashes a "How safe is your job" questionnaire across its front page, a take surprisingly followed by the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung. "Every morning the fear of a layoff comes with employees to their workplace," the politically conservative paper writes. In discussing the workers' decision to go back to work, the paper also points out that "many (workers) also understand that, while their protest was viewed sympathetically with large chunks of the population, such a heated atmosphere makes constructive negotiations virtually impossible."

A number of major dailies also focus on the upcoming negotiations, pointing out that the seven-day walkout may have upped the workers' bargaining position. The business daily Financial Times Deutschland chooses, however, to focus on how the problem started in the first place, laying a huge share of the blame on the doorstep of General Motors. Reminding readers that the former head of Opel, Carl-Peter Forster pushed through a cost-cutting program of €1 billion three years ago without setting off a single strike, the paper has a clear explanation for the current unrest. "Apparently, (current GM Europe boss Fritz) Henderson has decided to see himself as the Donald Rumsfeld of the automobile industry, and to spark the anger of entire 'Old Europe,'" it opines.

A second favorite theme for the German press on Thursday is the ongoing European Union strife over controversial Rocco ("homosexuality is a sin") Buttiglione's potential appointment as a European Union justice commissioner. The business daily, Handelsblatt, reports that Jose Manuel Barosso, the European Commission's designated new president, has come up with a new tactic to get Buttiglione in. How? He wants to put Buttiglione under "supervision" and to create a team of commissioners to oversee cases involving civil rights and equal opportunity, which some say Buttiglione is too biased to decide. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is calling on EU ministers to support the revised Buttiglione plan.

The left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung actually takes some pressure away from Buttiglione, arguing that the primary blame for the scandal lies squarely on the shoulders of the EU parliament. Because of the relative lack of interest many have for the EU parliament, comments Suddeutsche, EU parliamentarians are always trying to up their profiles, and even went so far as to block the entire Commission from being named. If that happened, "all fears already felt as the first session of the newly enlarged parliament begins will be confirmed. This parliament isn't capable of pushing Europe ahead."

Meanwhile, FAZ and others report on German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher's oddly-framed comment to the BBC that, "modernizing an Islamic country on the basis of the common values of Europe would be like a D-Day in the fight against terror." FAZ responds, "This government is not happy with anything less than grand historical analogies. (It) compared Serbian behaviour with Auschwitz. Now Fischer is claiming that Turkish accession would be a kind of D-Day for Europe in the fight against terror. Are the accession negotiations then a kind of Normandy landing with German Christian Democrats and French Socialists in the role of the Wehrmacht? It could well be that a battle breaks out after Turkish accession -- about whether the EU can be saved."

And finally, Tony Blair, too, is a top topic, especially his insistence that his desire to redeploy British troops from Northern Iraq to Baghdad has "nothing to do with the US election" and is not an attempt to tacitly help US president George W. Bush in the too-close-to call race. HB reports that more than 40 ministers from Blair's own Labor Party have tabled a motion for a vote on the redeployment. The Berlin daily Tagespiegel is fed up, saying "Someone try to understand this Tony Blair! In Germany most people can't follow him anymore. A lot of people like him -- so much so that they would perhaps even forgive him the error of participating in the Iraq war, if he would only finally acknowledge the mistake and distance himself from Bush. But he's now helping Bush's election campaign and refuses his Labour Party colleague's wish for a Commons vote on the movement of troops. Is that not undemocratic?"

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