Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 18:35 UK

French MPs debate Sunday shopping

Michelle Obama leaves a Paris store, 7 June, 2009
President Sarkozy made sure Barack Obama's family could go shopping

Parliament in France has begun debating a law that would allow more shops to open on Sundays.

Most retailers have been banned from trading on Sunday since 1906, when a law enshrined it as a day of rest.

But President Nicolas Sarkozy says the pace of modern life has overtaken tradition, and France has ended up behind the times.

Trade unions and many members of parliament across the political divide have criticised the planned law.

The bill would see the establishment of special tourist areas and commercial zones.

Employees would get double their normal pay for working on a Sunday.

Many big chain stores in France already ignore the current laws banning Sunday trading - and have to pay large fines for opening their doors.

Bakeries, butchers' shops and other small businesses are allowed to open - but only until noon.

It's time to put an end to the jungle that exists today
Xavier Darcos, labour minister

Last month, President Sarkozy admitted to being embarrassed when he had to make emergency phone calls to enable President Barack Obama's wife and children to go shopping on a Sunday during their visit to Paris.

Labour Minister Xavier Darcos told French radio: "It's time to put an end to the jungle that exists today."

He said 500 tourist towns, 30 commercial zones, and French cities with populations of more than a million would be affected by any new law.

The French news agency AFP says recent polls have shown that, while the French people believe shops should be allowed to open on Sundays, they are also opposed to employees being forced to work then.

Supporters of the plan say extended Sunday opening could be a way of tackling the effects of France's current economic difficulties.

One member of parliament from President Sarkozy's UMP party said 15,000 jobs could be saved as a result of the change.

The current bill is weaker than one rejected by parliament six months ago, and the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says it is expected to be adopted later this month.

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