PARIS — French real estate operators have given a lukewarm thumbs-up to a wide-ranging economic reform program that will loosen the rules governing Sunday store opening.
On the same day that the Socialist government of President François Hollande forced the flagship measure through the lower house of parliament by decree, leaders of commercial real estate firms gathered at a conference hosted by the National Council of Shopping Centers of France (CNCC) said the law did not go far enough.
Laurent Morel, chairman of the executive board of Klépierre, said he approved the retail component of the reform named after Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.
“It is one more step toward something which I believe is inevitable, which is Sunday store opening, because that is what clients want,” he said at the closing session of the day-long SIEC conference, held on Tuesday.
“You could probably create 50,000 to 60,000 full-time jobs immediately with Sunday opening, so for me, it’s a foregone conclusion. But it’s clearly one of our French controversies. Every country in Europe has Sunday opening, apart from Germany,” Morel noted.
Christophe Cuvillier, chief executive officer and chairman of the management board of Unibail-Rodamco, recalled that he led the fight to authorize Sunday opening for furniture stores when he was ceo of the Conforama chain. However, he voiced doubts about the efficiency of the new law.
In its final, amended version, it allows stores in so-called international tourist zones to remain open on Sundays, and gives mayors elsewhere leeway to authorize up to 12 Sunday openings per year in their cities, up from five previously.
Some mayors have already indicated they will grant little or no authorizations in their towns, citing workers’ right to a day of rest, among other reasons.
Macron said in an interview with financial daily Les Echos published on Wednesday that he expected the law to be published in August and to become effective immediately.
“Unfortunately, in its current form, the Macron law is not sufficient,” said Cuvillier.
“There will always be mayors…who grant zero Sunday openings, including in the weeks running up to Christmas or on the first Sunday of the sales. Frankly, it represents lost business, lost tax income, lost jobs and therefore lost growth for France, without a doubt,” he added.
His view was echoed by Philippe Journo, ceo and founder of La Compagnie de Phalsbourg.
“The law has been partially stripped of its substance, because now it is up to mayors to decide, and there are places — in the east and west of France, in particular — where the mayor will say, ‘No, you will get three Sundays,’” he said.
Meanwhile, Jacques Ehrmann, ceo of Carmila and executive director, assets, development and new ventures of Carrefour Group, sharply criticized the regulatory environment in France.
“There is still in our sector a fairly spectacular propensity to legislate on idiocies every six months,” he said. “In less than 18 months, there have been three laws governing parking lots at shopping centers.”
The conference took place against a moribund backdrop for retail in France. Despite a slight improvement in the overall economic environment, the country is expected to post growth of just 1.1 percent growth in 2015, according to the latest forecast from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Jean-Michel Silberstein, managing director of the CNCC, said the organization had lobbied for the Macron law to put the decision on whether to open on Sundays in the hands of retailers instead of local politicians. Nonetheless, he was hopeful that shopping centers would see growth in the year ahead.
“We are seeing a recovery in consumer spending so we are fairly optimistic in that regard. Furthermore, a crisis period is always an opportunity to reassess your business and on that front, shopping centers have some very powerful tools to analyze the situation and come up with solutions,” he told WWD.
Among the innovative retail concepts singled out by the ceos at the SIEC conference were electric car company Tesla’s store at the Täby Centrum mall in Stockholm; the revamp of low-cost clothing retailer Tati in France; and the Sweetgreen chain of eateries in the United States.