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Lawmakers debate knotty move to ‘unlock’ French economy

By AFP   |   26 January 2015   |   11:33 am  

FRENCH MPs on Monday thrash out a controversial package of reforms designed to “unlock” France’s sclerotic economy, including a proposal to extend Sunday shopping that sparked angry demonstrations.
The reforms, presented by France’s youthful Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, aim to shake up Europe’s second-biggest economy as it battles with stubbornly high unemployment and near-zero growth.
One of the most controversial planks of the plan extends the number of Sundays that shops can open annually from five to a maximum of 12.
In areas designated “tourist zones” — such as the iconic Champs Elysees in Paris — the proposed law would allow shops to open every Sunday and until midnight every day, bringing the French capital more in line with London.
But this has proved hugely divisive in a country where the maximum working week is fixed at 35 hours and leisure time is sacrosanct.
After enormous demonstrations against the reform package last year, several unions plan to hit the streets again on Tuesday to protest against what they see as the “acceptance of work on Sundays and at night.”
Another facet of the law — opening up previously heavily regulated professions such as notarial lawyers — sparked the unusual sight of these white-collar workers marching through the streets.
Other measures aiming to prise open up the notoriously closed French economy include throwing open inter-city bus routes to competition and privatising the airports of Nice and Lyon.
Under pressure from Brussels, the reform package also aims to improve the parlous state of France’s public finances.



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