Two years ago, French president Nicolas Sarkozy was elected on a platform of adopting free-market economics. Allowing Sunday shopping would let people “work more and earn more,” he said.
Indeed, until recently, the American model of 24/7 retail was becoming more popular across Europe. But the downturn has prompted a backlash against unregulated capitalism – from freewheeling banks to liberal hours. Business is hardly booming, but now more than ever Europeans are clinging to their day of rest.
“A society that has no time framework risks falling apart,” André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, said recently, as the financial crisis hit Europe. “Has making money become the cornerstone of everyone’s existence?”
Massive opposition from an unlikely front of leftist trade unions, members of Sarkozy’s own conservative party, and Catholic bishops prompted the government to back down from the plan.
From the family lunch tradition in France to the afternoon walk in the forest in Germany, the Sunday tradition of rest remains entrenched in the culture of the continent. In Germany, one of the most regulated markets – along with those in Switzerland and Austria – the highest court in 2004 upheld Sunday sales restrictions by declaring Sunday “sacrosanct,” which means frozen pizzas remain largely off-limits on Sundays, not to mention late at nights on weekdays.