Opel May shuts Antwerp facility in Belgium

General Motors said that Opel intends to close its manufacturing plant in Antwerp, Belgium, during t

According to GM, the global economic crisis has led to a downturn in automotive industry. The Western European car market in 2010 is expected to be 1.5 million vehicles below 2009 levels and almost 4 million below 2007 levels. It is not expected to return anytime soon to these levels, resulting in overcapacity in general and at Opel. To ensure long-term sustainability for the company, Opel needs to reduce capacity by approximately 20%.

In view of current capacity utilization at all European Opel and Vauxhall plants, planned future product portfolio, timing requirements and financial impact, winding down Antwerp plant would be a logical approach for the company, said GM. If confirmed, production would conclude in next few months.

In addition, it is expected that full restructuring plan, when completed, will affect all Opel and Vauxhall production sites and entities through such measures as capacity reductions, job redundancies and labor cost reductions.

Nick Reilly, CEO of Opel, said: "We fully understand the effect this announcement has on the Antwerp employees and their families and we sympathize with them. Many have been dedicated to the plant over generations and have done an excellent job producing great quality cars. The decision to announce this today, was not taken lightly; instead, it is the unfortunate result of the current business reality. We must make this announcement now so that we can secure a viable future for the entire Opel and Vauxhall operations."

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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.