Rigid German shop opening law to be abolished

30th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

30 June 2006, BERLIN - Germany's parliament on Friday approved a constitutional reform which will abolish a rigid 1950s federal "Ladenschlussgesetz" (store closing law) long seen as a symbol of service sector rigidity in Europe's biggest economy.

30 June 2006

BERLIN - Germany's parliament on Friday approved a constitutional reform which will abolish a rigid 1950s federal "Ladenschlussgesetz" (store closing law) long seen as a symbol of service sector rigidity in Europe's biggest economy.

Getting rid of the notorious law is part of a package of 25 constitutional reforms under which Germany's federal states, the Laender, are getting more power over regional issues, including setting wages for public sector employees as well as more regulatory leeway and a greater say in things like running prisons and dealing with people who require long-term nursing care.

In exchange, federal power is being expanded by slashing the number of laws which must be approved by regional assemblies to 30 per cent from the present 60 per cent.

"Germany had tilted toward complicated and protracted decision- making," admitted Chancellor Angela Merkel in a speech to parliament before the reform package vote.

Merkel urged the 16 Laender - which will now set shopping hours - not to radically depart from the country's system of banning Sunday shopping.

"It would be good if the Laender do not approve more than four Sundays a year on which stores can stay open," said Merkel who is a Protestant pastor's daughter and leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party.

Under the shop closing law from 1956, all stores must close by 8:00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and remain shut on Sundays. Up until 1996 the closing time was 6:30 p.m. on workdays and 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

The law, which was aimed at protecting small shopkeepers and shopworkers from late hours, has long been a sacred cow to trade unionists - and a symbol of German inflexibility to reformers.

Visitors used to the 24/7 shopping in countries like the US, Japan and most of Germany's European partner states are generally stunned by the tight limits imposed on shopping in one of the most wealthy countries in the world.

Central shopping areas are buzzing all weekend in most countries. But in Germany the main retail centres are generally dead as doornails on Sundays.

Most German states plan to liberalize shopping hours once the constitutional reform is approved.

Berlin, the country's biggest city, says stores will be free to open at any time from Monday to Saturday.

The formal Sunday shop opening ban will remain in place in Berlin - at least for the present.

But in recent years the law has been widely flouted in Berlin by smaller stores in tourist areas or near transport hubs such as train stations which get special permits to stay open.

"We sell fruits and vegetables. If we don't open on Sundays we have to throw a lot of them away," said Erkan Kalkan who runs a small grocery store in downtown Berlin.

Kalkan, who is originally from Turkey, said his sales were modest on Sundays - but vital to his survival.

The city's estimated 200,000 mainly Muslim Turkish residents - many of whom run shops and small businesses - have never seen much of a reason to stay shut on Sundays.

Store closing hours have been radically loosened nationwide under a temporary rule for the football World Cup currently taking place in Germany.

But many shopkeepers complain they have seen little extra business.

"Everybody is too busy watching football," said Kalkan with a grin.

A final green light for the constitutional reforms from the Bundesrat is viewed as all but certain. The upper house votes on July 7 and the reforms are due to come into force in 2007.

DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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