PARIS – France’s conservative-led Senate has approved a pro-business economic reform bill that the Socialist government has promoted despite a rebellion within its own ranks.
Senators approved the bill Tuesday by 185 votes to 44.
The reform triggered a political crisis in February during the debate in the National Assembly, the lower house. Prime Minister Manuel Valls had to invoke special powers to push through the reform without a vote to counter a rebellion from some Socialist parliamentarians.
The reform is now to be discussed in coming weeks by a commission composed of parliamentarians from both houses.
If they fail to find an agreement, the National Assembly has the final say. The government is allowed to use its special powers if the same scenario plays out again.
The bill includes a patchwork of measures including allowing more stores to open on Sundays and evenings, reducing workplace protections and fostering greater competition in regulated professions such as auctioneers and notaries.
In his speech at the Senate, Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron dismissed critics that the bill was “too late” and “too long”.
“I couldn’t go faster”, he said. “The spirit of the text is to cover all aspects in a coherent manner.”
The Socialist party is fractured between a pro-business faction, including Valls and Macron, and others who focus on protecting the country’s social and health benefits.
Sunday shopping has become the symbol of the battle between pros and antis.
Only a scant number of French shops, mainly in tourist areas, are open on Sundays at the moment. Under Macron’s law, designated “international tourist zones” would be created with the right to open on Sundays and evenings until midnight.
Stores in other areas would be allowed to be open 12 Sundays a year, rather than five currently.
The French government has pointed to the bill as an important demonstration of goodwill toward EU authorities, who allowed France yet again to put off reducing its deficit.