France: Permitted Trading Hours In France And Other Countries In Europe

Last Updated: 1 March 1995

Sunday trading, a current issue

The first regulations affecting opening hours for retail and service sector premises in Europe were enacted before 1960 in countries such as England and Wales, France, Germany and the Netherlands, usually with the main object of the protection of employees.

In the 1970's further regulations and amendments were passed in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, which, while still taking account of the need for protection of employees, focused more on the maintenance of free and fair competition. In recent years there seems to have been a debate fostered by pressure groups (trading associations, consumer organisations) which has given rise to amendments to legislation in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and England and Wales. Sunday trading is very much a topical issue, in particular in Spain, the UK and, more recently, the Netherlands.

Liberalisation or restriction?

In most countries the trend is towards liberalisation, led by England and Wales who, with the 1994 Sunday Trading Act, have shifted from a restrictive regulation based on a general ban on Sunday trading to a general liberalisation subject, in some cases, to a notification to the local authorities. Other countries, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands have to a lesser degree also extended the range of exceptions to a generally restrictive regime. This latter country is presently discussing a plan for a wide liberalisation.

At the other end of the scale, and under pressure from small traders, the Spanish Government has abandoned the system of total freedom established in 1985. Autonomous Communities are now able to establish the degree of restriction, which will in any event now be more in line with the situation prevailing throughout the rest of Europe. However, the Spanish Government intends to return to a situation of general liberalisation as from the year 2.000.

From the results of this comparative study, recent legislative developments would seem to be more the result of parliamentary and government concessions to the lobbying of particular pressure groups rather than to follow any coherent plan geared by the general public interest. As an example, the protection of small shop-keepers has given rise in England and Wales to liberalisation enabling them to compete with food superstores and DIY stores for a share of the evening and Sunday customer demand, whereas in Spain the main argument for restrictions put forward by the Government in the preamble of the law on opening hours for commercial premises is the protection of those same small shop-keepers "against the effects of shrinking demand due to the recession".

This card is a ready-reference guide to the current state of the law on trading hours in the following countries: Belgium, England & Wales, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain.

The information is broken down into easy reference charts:
.	basic rules (table 1)
.	exceptions to the basic rules:
	-	by reason of the product sold (table 2)
	-	by reason of the location of the shop (table 3)
	-	specific exceptions (table 4)
Table 1 - The Basic Rules

	Max. weekly	Max. weekly	General Ban	Max. hours per	Max. Sunday	Obligation to
	trading hours	working hours	on Sunday	Sunday	and holiday	affix a notice indicating
				trading	openings/year	opening hours
Belgium	106 (1)	40 	No (7)	15 (10)	12 (14)	No

England and	Large shops 150	No general rules	No	Large shops 6	Others 84 (5)	Yes
Wales				(others no limit)	All
France	No limit	48	No (8)	Depends on	5 (15)	No

Germany	64.5 to 68.5 (2)	48	Yes	Depends on)	Depends on	Yes
				activity (11	activity (16)

Italy	66 (3)	40	Yes	12 (12)	As established	Yes
					by the local
					authority (17)

Netherlands	55	48 (6)	Yes (9)	12.5	18 (18)	Yes

Spain	72 (4)	40	Yes	12 (4)	8 (4)	Yes

  • (1) In sectors where a mandatory day of rest has been established by Royal Decree, the maximum is 91 hours.
  • (2) On the first Saturday of each month, shops may open until 18:00 h. or until 16:00 h. from April to September (i.e. 2 or 4 more hours).
  • (3) 72 during summertime. Limits can differ from one town to another as stipulated by the local authority.
  • (4) In Spain, the general law allows the Governments of the Autonomous Communities to regulate Sunday opening; they cannot however restrict opening hours by establishing maxima lower than the figures indicated in the table above.
  • (5) All shops except "large" shops (those whose area exceeds 28 sq. m.) have unlimited opening hours. Large shops are restricted to 150 hours a week. Their trading hours are unlimited from Monday to Saturday, but on Sunday they are limited to not more than 6 hours of continuous trading between 10.00 and 18.00. They are required to give prior notification of their Sunday trading hours to the local authority.
  • (6) However, by way of collective agreements, this figure is usually reduced to 40 or 38. Special overtime permits may also be granted by the labour authorities at the request of the employer.
  • (7) There is, however, a general ban on employing people on a Sunday, subject to large number of exceptions. Furthermore, trade federations may apply to the King for a mandatory weekly day of rest in the sector. Royal Decrees have been passed for activities including foodstuffs, jewellery, bakery, hairdressers, drugstores, flower shops, furniture shops, etc. Exemptions to these Royal Decrees can be obtained.
  • (8) However, the Labour Code ("Code du Travail") provides for mandatory Sunday rest.
  • (9) As from 1992, an experiment in deregulation is being carried out in 9 municipalities; in these, shops may open on Sundays and public holidays, and the permitted hours of opening are extended to 15.
  • (10) Sunday trading can be expressly authorised by Royal Decree for specific sectors; for shops not covered by a Royal Decree, staff can be employed for 4 hours (i.e. 8:00 h. to midday).
  • (11) Sunday opening hours depend on the type of activity; for example, newspaper stands may only open from 11:00 to 13:00; sporting resorts and health spas may open 8 hours; petrol stations and shops located in bus and train stations or in airports may open for the whole day.
  • (12) Opening hours are required to be shorter on Sundays than on week days. The maximum is usually 12 hours, but it is set by the relevant local authority.
  • (13) Large shops may only open for a continuous 6 hour period between 10:00 and 18:00.
  • (14) Applies only by Royal Decree to seasonal industries.
  • (15) The local authority can grant any retailer up to 5 derogations per year to the Sunday rest principle. Individual and temporary derogations are also available. Permanent derogations exist for services whose Sunday opening is regarded as "necessary for the continuity of a minimum economic and social life".
  • (16) Sporting resorts and health spas may open on 40 Sundays and holidays per year. Authorisations may be given to open on up to 4 Sundays a year in connection with markets, fairs and other celebrations. Authorisations for both of the above combined may not exceed 22 Sundays and holidays per year.
  • (17) Local festivities and traditions and the peak tourist season must be taken into account.

Exceptions to the basic rules

The most widespread system is to pass a general law, applicable throughout the national territory, which establishes a general ban on Sunday trading but contains a number of general exceptions, which can be classified under two main headings: a) exceptions by reason of the products sold; and b) exceptions by reason of the location of the premises. In addition, regional or local authorities are empowered to grant specific exemptions. Tables 2 to 4 below summarise these exceptions.

Table 2 - Exceptions By Reason Of The Product Sold

	Bakery/	Flowers	Food	Haird-	Milk	News-	Petrol	Tobacconist	Medical	Con-	Others
	Cakes 		stuffs	ressers		agents	Stations	& other state	supplies	venience
								monopolies		Shops

Belgium	X	X	X (1)	X (2)		X	X	X	X		

England				X			X				
and Wales

France		X	 X					X			

Germany	X (3)	X (4)	 	 	X (5)	X (5)	  X			X (6)	

Italy	X	X (7)	 			X	X	 X			X (8)	

Nether-		X	X (9)				X	X	X	X (10)	X (11)	

Spain	X	X	X (9)		 	 X	X			X (12)	

  • (1) Provided they employ fewer than 5 workers
  • (2) Only in tourist resorts during the holiday season
  • (3) Only for 2 hours
  • (4) Only for 2 hours, except on certain public holidays, in which case for 6 hours
  • (5) Only for 5 hours
  • (6) In international airports, harbours and petrol stations
  • (7) Only in the morning
  • (8) Specific exemptions have been granted for the sale of drinks, books, records, tapes, videotapes, works of art, antiques, prints, postcards, souvenirs and furniture
  • (9) Only retailers of prepared food
  • (10) Only one per 15,000 inhabitants (or per town if smaller), for sale of food & beverage
  • (11) Specific exemptions can be granted for the renting of video tapes
  • (12) Provided their usable suface area does not exceed 500m2

Table 3 Exceptions By Reason Of Location Of The Shop
Airports & Seaports

 X (1) (7)

England and Wales



 X (2)
 X (2)
 X (2)

 X (3)

 X (4)
 X (4)
 X (4)
 X (4) (5)
 X (4) (5)
 X (6)

 X (6)

 X (1) (2)







 X (7)




  • (1) During the holiday season
  • (2) By express authorisation
  • (3) Sale only to professionals, not to the general public
  • (4) Only for certain products
  • (5) On 24 December only until 17:00h
  • (6) 4 Sundays a year maximum as authorised by the respective "Land" government
  • (7) Sports resorts and health spas may also be considered as tourist resorts for the purposes of Sunday trading, depending on the influx of non-residents

    	TABLE 4
    Takeaways &
    Cinemas & Theatres
    Hotels &
    Sunday before
    Special events
      X (1)
      X (3)
    England and Wales
     X (5)
      X (1)
      X (4) 
     X (6)
      X (2)
     X (7)

      (1)Rota system. Only for sale of medicines.

      (2)Retailing is permitted on the 3 Sundays preceeding Christmas

      (3)Where there is a visiting fair. The exemption applies to the whole commune, and not to individual applicants.

      (4)4 Sundays a year.

      (5)Individual authorisations for Sunday trading may be granted by the local authority (arreté préfectoral) to specific shops, if they can establish that closing on Sunday may jeopardize the normal functioning of their business.

      (6)Special provisions for Christmas Eve. Specific derogations may be granted in the public interest.

      (7)Regional governments must take local traditions into account when granting exemptions to the general ban

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