IT'S unlikely that the coincidence was deliberate but the fact remains that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, received a nasty snub when her visit earlier this week to the United States took place at just the moment that General Motors decided to go back on its deal to sell its European operations to Magna International - a deal that Frau Merkel had facilitated with a huge government subsidy and that had helped her to win her recent election by safeguarding the employment of thousands of German car workers. Did President Obama know about the GM U-turn when he met Merkel at the White House? Did members of Congress know even as she delivered her well-received speech to them? GM went public with its change of mind as the German Chancellor was flying back to Germany but news of it was probably circulating some hours before then.

General Motors seems to work in a strange way. It gave as its reason for abandoning an agreement that had taken months to negotiate that there had been a very recent upturn in sales prospects, but it seems unlikely that such green shoots became apparent only in the last few weeks. The company currently employs 54'000 workers in Europe - in Germany, Spain and Britain. Magna International said it would cut 10'000 of these jobs and GM will now probably do the same. But whereas German plants had previously expected to suffer the least there will now be hope in Spain and at Ellesmere Port and Luton in Britain that economies will be more evenly spread.


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