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French MPs to vote on Sunday shopping in tourist zones

Galeries Lafayette department store, central Paris
Galeries Lafayette department store, central Paris Reuters/Charles Platiau

Shops in key tourist areas in France will be allowed to open every Sunday if French MPs on Tuesday pass a package of reforms aimed at boosting the economy. 

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Deputies will vote on the controversial package of measures drawn up by economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who says he has received death threats over the reforms.

The former banker argues that the reforms are the only way to free up the eurozone's second-largest economy but he has faced resistance and strikes.

He has even reported to police an alleged death threat from an opponent of proposed changes affecting the notarial lawyer profession.

A major plank of the reform package is to extend the number of Sundays that shops are allowed to open from a maximum of five per year to 12.

In certain areas classed as "international tourist zones" such as, in Paris, the Champs Elysees, the Saint-Germain area and the Boulevard Haussmann, shops would be able to open every Sunday.

Shops in these zones, which will also be created in the French Riviera cities of Cannes and Nice, will also be authorised to open until midnight seven days a week.

Employees working between 9:00 pm and midnight will receive double pay and their trip home and any childcare costs will be paid by their employer.

With the reforms, Paris is bidding to cement its reputation as the world's number-one tourist destination.

"Do we want millions and millions of tourists, notably Chinese, who come to the capital to leave us and go and do their shopping in London on a Sunday?" asked Valls in a recent interview.

But the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is staunchly opposed to extending Sunday opening and has described it as a "backward step for democracy."

Another contested reform is the opening up of white-collar professions such as notarial lawyers, who have traditionally received a fixed fee for their services regardless of the size of the job.

Macron has suggested freeing up the sector to allow competition in transactions such as real estate sales.

But this also proved controversial and sparked the unusual sight of these stalwarts of the bourgeoisie pounding the streets in protest.

France's economy is desperately in need of a boost. It registered 0.4 percent growth last year and unemployment is at a record high.

President Francois Hollande is pinning his hopes on the Macron reforms, plus a package of tax breaks for businesses in return for job pledges, known as the Responsibility Pact.

He has vowed not to seek re-election in the next presidential vote in 2017 if he fails to reduce unemployment.

Most economists believe a growth rate of around 1.5 percent is required to create jobs.

The controversial reform package has even split the two main parties in parliament.

A left-wing rump of the ruling Socialist party is expected to vote against the reforms, believing them to be too pro-business and right-wing.

Christian Paul, one of the rebels, said "several dozen" Socialist MPs opposed the legislation.

On the other side of the aisle, a handful of MPs from the right-wing UMP party, which has been called to vote against the package, have vowed to vote in favour of the measures.

After weeks of heated debate, many sessions stretching well into the early hours, the bill is expected to pass in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, before moving to the upper house Senate.

Ahead of the vote, the head of the powerful MEDEF business lobby, Pierre Gattaz, said he was disappointed that the reforms had been "watered down" in parliament.

"We need five to 10" such reforms to move forward, Gattaz said.
 

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