22 April 2004
BERLIN – Despite signs that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrat-led government might seek to slow the pace of economic reforms this year, Economic and Labour Minister Wolfgang Clement has seized on the concerns about the nation’s growth outlook with a fresh batch of reforms.
The virtual scrapping of Germany’s notorious “store closing law” heads a list of reforms proposed Wednesday by Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement aimed at shoring up the country’s economy.
Clement is taking aim at the retailing law which only allows stores to stay open until 8:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and requires them to be closed on Sundays.
The minister wants to allow 24-hour shopping Monday to Saturday and to give Germany’s federal states the right decide whether to allow stores to open on Sundays.
Trade unions reacted with fury to the proposal.
“The initiative smacks of populist actionism,” said the public sector union Verdi in a statement, adding: “Consumers don’t need more time to go shopping – they need more money.”
Germany’s “Ladenschlussgesetz” or store-closing law has become a litmus test for reform with unions fiercely in favour and business leaders demanding it be abolished.
The law, which dates back to the 1950s, was first loosened in 1996 after years of bitter debate. Up until the reform all stores had to shut by 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and by 2:00 p.m. Saturdays.
Nevertheless, retailers have found many ways to get around the law including expanded facilities at airports and train stations where shops can stay open late, as well as 24-hour petrol stations which resemble small supermarkets complete with bakeries for fresh bread.
In addition to the store law reform, Clement presented Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet with a list of 32 other reforms aimed at boosting the economy and cutting bureaucracy.
A government spokesman said the list would be considered for two weeks before a final debate after which work would begin on drafting a bill for parliament.
Other Clement proposals are aimed at streamlining Germany’s slow- moving system of issuing building permits, liberalising rules on licensing restaurants and making it easier to put up small advertising signs on roads.
The package is part of the government’s bid to kick-start the economy which has been in stagnation for the past three years.
German GDP contracted last year and the jobless rate is currently 11 percent.
[Copyright DPA with Expatica]
Subject: German news