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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 07:22 GMT
Germany gives shoppers a little freedom
Shoppers in Weiden
The Saturday scramble will soon be a thing of the past
Germany is on the verge of a retail revolution, after parliament approved plans to liberalise currently restrictive shop opening hours.

At present, under a 1956 law, German shops are forced to close at 4pm on Saturdays - and many shut their doors far earlier.

Although long out of step with the rest of Europe, the law has been fiercely defended by trade unions and lobby groups.

Now, the lower house of parliament has given the nod to government plans to allow shops to open until 8pm on Saturdays - the same time as other weekdays.

Trading on a Sunday, however, is banned and will remain so.

Slow progress

This is only the second serious revision to the 1956 law.

In 1996, shops were allowed to open after 6.30pm on weekdays, and the Saturday deadline was moved from 2pm tp 4pm.

Consumer groups welcomed the move, which takes effect from June, and have pushed hard for this latest liberalisation.

Two years ago, some German states tried to allow shops to open until 10pm, but central government quashed the move.

This latest revision was stridently opposed by the Verdi trade union, which recently mobilised shop workers onto the streets in protest.

The bill was only passed by a narrow majority in the Bundestag.

Deadline dead

For ordinary Germans, the move means partial relief in the regular weekend scramble to get the shopping done.

Previously, those who missed the Saturday deadline had to go hungry all weekend, or scour big cities for the few shops - usually at railway stations - allowed to stay open.

The reform is also seen as significant in the current economic situation, as Germany struggles to revive consumer confidence amid mounting unemployment and stagnant growth.

Economists say the German government must liberalise much faster and more deeply than at present if it is to kick-start the economy.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is to present his ideas for economic reform to the Bundestag on Friday.

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