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Sunday shopping, bailiffs’ ‘privileges’ targeted by France’s grab-bag economic reform

Lawyers, notaries and bailiffs protest in Paris as parliament prepares to discuss Emmanuel Macron's economy bill
Lawyers, notaries and bailiffs protest in Paris as parliament prepares to discuss Emmanuel Macron's economy bill Reuters//Charles Platiau
3 min

Lawyers, notaries and bailiffs took to France’s streets on Wednesday and left-wingers promised to fight an extension of Sunday shopping hours as French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron prepared to put his latest attempt to reform the economy to parliament.

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Several thousand members of legal professions demonstrated in Paris on Wednesday afternoon to protest at plans to open up access to their jobs and reduce their fees.

The proposal is one of a grab-bag of measures in Macron’s bill, whose declared aim its to boost GDP and fend off pressure for changes to the economy from the European Union and Germany.

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Hard-left MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon took up the cudgels on the bill’s most controversial proposal, the extension of shops’ Sunday opening hours, vowing to lead protests against it if the unions do not and dubbing it “productivism with a capital P”.

Earlier Socialist Party heavyweight Martine Aubry – who introduced France’s 35-hour week when she was labour minister in the 1990s - described the idea as a “step backwards”.

Macron hit back, describing the plan as an “advance”.

He claims the bill is a "pragmatic" attempt to create jobs and tackle taboos that paralyse French economic life.

And Prime Minister Manuel Valls told media that it “aims to concretely and quickly improve French people’s lives”.

The proposals touch on:

  • Sunday shopping: Mayors will be able to allow shops to open 12 Sundays a year, instead of seven at the moment, and “international tourist zones”, where Sunday opening is authorised throughout the year, will be set up;
  • Protected legal professions: Access to professions such as notaries and bailiffs will be opened up and new, lower fees will be fixed as from 2015, while lawyers’ fees will no longer be legally controlled;
  • Transport: Coach routes are to be permitted throughout France, motorway contracts are to be more tightly controlled to limit rises in toll charges, waiting times for driving tests will be reduced;
  • Labour law: Labour courts’ procedures are to be made “simpler and quicker” and professional judges will be able to replace panels of union and employer representatives;
  • Employee shareholding: Companies will be encouraged to offer shares to their employees and courts could order companies facing closure to sell to “people proposing a credible plan to save the company and maintain employment”.

The Sunday shopping proposal has so far proved the most controversial with unions fighting the many already-existing exemptions to the law and the Socialist left threatening to oppose the move.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has said she will resist plans to extend the tourist zones in the capital on the grounds that it is likely to favour big retailers and force small businesses to close.

The bosses’ union Medef, currently campaigning against the government’s economic policy, welcomed the proposal as a step in the right direction.
 

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