In its election platform “Good for Bavaria. Good for Germany,” CSU announced that it would allow four shopping days each year in the future – even without the previously necessary specific occasion such as a folk festival or trade fair.
Unions and churches criticized this as a political shift and an attack on Sunday protection. Stefan Korioth is Professor of Public Law, Church Law, German State and Constitutional Law at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. It explains what protection Sundays have in the Basic Law and what leeway the federal states have.
Mr. Koriot, Article 140 of the Basic Law states that Sunday is preserved as a “day of rest from work and spiritual ecstasy”. What does all this cover?
Stefan Korioth: Only Sunday is protected by the constitution. On all other public holidays, countries that have closed their own stores since 2006 have some wiggle room. Since the 1990s, the question of when shops are allowed to open on Sundays has become a long-standing question. This is allowed, for example, for souvenir shops at holiday resorts, for grocery stores at train stations or for gas stations. If you wanted to allow a general store to open on all Sundays of the year, you would have to change Section 140.
Is reference to the occasion also included in the Basic Law?
Stefan Korioth: No, in my opinion it is within the discretion of the federal states. If one allowed unprecedented stores to open on four Sundays spread throughout the year without any specific religious reference, it would be possible. Opening times can go against the stat: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. would be too long, as that goes against the phrase “day of rest”. On the other hand, this idea has always been riddled with loopholes: many factories operate seven days, which is often impossible for regulatory reasons.
Do you see Sunday’s battle a retreat battle?
Stefan Korioth: Somehow, yes. Take a look at Great Britain, Holland and Poland: everywhere shops open on Sundays, if the owners want it. Whether this makes sense is another question. With us too, we have to realize that the comfort of a Sunday costume is long gone. However: Sunday protection is explicit in the constitution. The only question is how much do you allow on Sundays. The occasion can be the promotion of retail trade as well as the memory of the city. There is always something to be found there.
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