Sunday opening for shops in selected areas was unconstitutional, Council of State rules

The Council of State, in a ruling issued on Monday, found that a ministerial decision allowing shops to open on Sunday in three specific regions in Greece was unconstitutional. The measure had been introduced as a pilot scheme on July 7, 2014 by the then development minister and then suspended pending the court’s final ruling, after it was challenged as unconstitutional by trade associations and unions.

In its ruling on Monday, the Council of State plenum granted the associations’ request that the ministerial order be revoked as unconstitutional.

The court found that the laws, issued in 2013 and 2014, were contrary to the 1909 law establishing Sunday as a day of rest for all shops and businesses, with the exception of specific categories such as recreational establishments, restaurants, tavernas, cake shops, coffee shops and shops selling goods for tourists.

The new laws allowed the development minister to ordain three areas to be treated as tourist areas, where the optional Sunday opening of retail outlets would be allowed on a pilot basis for one year, without the need for any decision by regional authorities.

On July 7, 2014 the development ministry issued a list of eight sub-regions where the new Sunday opening would apply, including the historic centre of Athens and the Rafina-Pikermi municipalities in Attica, the historic centre of Thessaloniki and the Halkidiki peninsula in Central Macedonia and the municipalities of Rhodes, Kos, Ermoupolis, Mykonos and Thira in the Southern Aegean.

The ministerial order was contested by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ESEE), the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE), the Federation of Private-Sector Employees of Greece, the Thessaloniki Association of Commerce and 20 individual merchants and retailers, who resorted to the Council of State (CoS) to protest that it was illegal and unconstitutional.

The ministerial measure was supported before the court by the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), the Hellenic Retail Business Association and the Competition Commission.

According to the CoS ruling, the law was contrary to article 43 of the Constitution, which requires that matters such as designating tourism areas are regulated through the issue of presidential decrees, not ministerial orders. Noting that this was independent of reasons relating to the religious freedoms of Christians, the court cancelled the relevant ministerial decision as illegal.

The court’s ruling also referred to the rights of workers and citizens to free time and a regular break from work within the week, noting that this promotes health and other aspects of personal life that are protected by the Constitution. It also noted the additional benefits arising when workers are able partake in a collective day of rest common to all, such as the Sunday holiday, which has been established by long tradition in Greece and the other states of Europe.