German states pursue more liberal shop hours

Germany's regional states are launching a campaign for 24-hour shopping after plans to liberalise the country's trading hours were knocked back by the courts.

Last week, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected a move to extend German shop opening hours, among the most restrictive in Europe. However, it said individual states have rights to determine shopping in agreement with the federal government.

Germany's eastern states have led demands for change in the hope that liberalisation will boost the fortunes of their hard-pressed economies.

'The Federal Government must now quickly create the basis for the states to independently forge new regulations,' said Ulrich Junghanns, Economics Minister for the eastern German state of Brandenburg.

His comments were echoed by the city authorities in Berlin and ministers from several other states, including Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony and Hesse.

Herman Franzen, president of German retail association HDE, said the court decision was not a defeat. 'The constitutional court has put the ball in Berlin's court,' he said.

With changes to the restrictions on shop hours often seen as a test of Germany's ability to press on with economic reform, Federal Economics and Labour Minister Wolfgang Clement has already outlined plans to push through parliament a law that would remove all restrictions on retail trading during weekdays.

Under the Clement plan, individual states would be given the right to decide whether to open on Sundays or public holidays. Until now, trading on Sunday has been considered unthinkable.