Paris (AFP) – Millions of tourists in Paris will be able to shop all-week long if French MPs pass a controversial set of reforms on Tuesday seen as vital to unblock its stuttering economy.
Deputies will vote on the highly divisive package of measures drawn up by the country’s energetic and youthful banker-turned-economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who says he has received death threats over the reforms.
The 37-year-old argues the reforms are the only way to free up the eurozone’s second-largest economy but he has faced resistance and strikes, even from white-collared workers such as notaries, who oppose changes to their fee structure.
The law is “important for our economy, which bolsters jobs and at the same time protects them,” said Prime Minister Manuel Valls ahead of the vote, as France battles against sky-high unemployment.
The main plank of the reform package is to extend the number of Sundays shops are allowed to open from a maximum of five per year to 12.
In certain areas classed as “international tourist zones” — in Paris, the Champs Elysees, the Saint-Germain area and the Boulevard Haussmann, where most of the capital’s department stores are based — 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 able 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.”
– Lawyers on the streets –
Another contested reform is the opening up of white-collared 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 house-buying.
But this also proved controversial and sparked the unusual sight of these middle-class workers downing pencils and pounding the streets in protest.
Such passions have been aroused by the debate that Macron even said he had received death threats over the proposed reforms.
France’s economy is desperately in need of being pepped-up. It registered a meagre 0.4 per cent growth last year and record unemployment has stubbornly refused to come down.
President Francois Hollande is pinning his hopes on the Macron reforms, plus a package of tax breaks for business 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 but most economists believe a growth rate of around 1.5 per cent is required to create jobs.
As a sign of how controversial the reforms are, the 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.
But balancing this out is a handful of MPs from the right-wing UMP who 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.
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