The liberalisation of trading hours is at very different stages across Europe, with traders in the UK for example able to open much longer hours than those in, say, France.
Sunday opening, for example, is still not widespread in many European countries, and many retailers are in fact resisting attempts to liberalise the market and allow stores to open seven days a week.
Spain is a good example of this, with current moves to liberalise opening hours, and in particular allow Sunday opening, being fiercely resisted by supermarkets and smaller shopkeepers. They argue that the Madrid authorities' decision to allow Sunday opening in the Spanish capital from next year will lead to higher prices and job losses. At present, stores are only allowed to open on selected Sundays and public holidays.
According to a report in the Cinco Dias newspaper, the supermarket industry association Asedas believes that "the liberalisation of store opening hours, including allowing stores to open every Sunday and public holiday throughout the year, will have enormous social consequences.". It added that between 56,000 and 59,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the move.
Because longer opening hours will mean increased labour costs for retailers, Asedas added, prices will inevitably rise to compensate, penalising the very consumers that the law is designed to help by allowing longer opening. This opinion is shared by Cecoma, the association representing Madrid's smaller retailers, which was quoted by the paper as saying that the move would simply accelerate the convergence in European food retail prices, most of which are higher in other countries than in Spain.
Both Asedas and Cecoma believe that the only winners will be the hypermarkets, which will see their market shares rise even higher at the expense of smaller operators. Andoni Monforte, head of Asedas, told the paper that it was the French companies Carrefour and Auchan - both major hypermarket operators in Spain - which were the driving forces behind the call for liberalisation - a situation not without irony since neither company has called for similar liberalisation in their home market.