German retail group Metro unsuccessfully fought the current ban on Sunday shop opening on the grounds that it stifles competition and hands those smaller convenience stores that are exempt an unfair advantage. However, despite considerable resistance to the change in Germany as a whole, a relaxation may benefit the country's struggling economy.

The German Federal Constitutional Court has upheld the country's restrictive retail opening hours, backing the government's right to dictate shopping hours, saying a law that prevents opening on Sundays and holidays is constitutional. The government, which last year extended Saturday shopping by four hours to match weekday closing times, has defended the restrictions as a protection of workers' rights.

The decision was triggered by a legal challenge from Galeria Kaufhof, one of the country's major department stores and a subsidiary of Metro. The company was appealing against a lawsuit brought against it for selling items it labelled as souvenirs on Sundays, thereby enabling it to circumvent the closing rule. The company argued that the law, which dates back to 1956, restricts freedom of labour and offers an unfair advantage to shops at stations, airports and gas stations, which are exempt from the restrictions.

The retailers are now likely to focus their campaigning on Germany's regional state governments, which have most influence over trading hours regulations. However, many Germans remain reticent about adopting a 24-hour shopping culture, with trade unions protesting that the regulations are needed to safeguard workers' rights.

Some economists have made the case that longer opening hours could help stimulate consumer spending, giving Germany's flagging economy a boost.

The rapid proliferation of 24-hour stores in countries such as the UK tends to support the idea that an extension of shopping hours would give a much needed boost to German consumer spending. Interestingly however, the German Retailers Association (HDE) claimed that retail sales had not risen markedly since stores were allowed to stay open longer on Saturdays more than a year ago. It is therefore unlikely that the archaic German shop opening laws are going to change dramatically in the near future.

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