Shop till we drop till 10PM?

The governing Flemish liberals have launched a novel proposal. They are suggesting axing the current legal closing time for shops in Belgium and extending hours of business.

At present Belgian shops are obliged to shoo away customers at the strike of eight, but if the pro-business Open VLD party gets its way we will all get an extra two hours in which to shop until we drop. That is if we can afford it after the government's cuts!

Flemish liberal lawmaker Vincent Van Quickenborne told the daily Het Laatste Nieuws: "We certainly don't want to oblige shops to stay open until 10PM. We only want to offer new opportunities. There was a hairdresser who got a conviction because he was still open at 8:15PM. This is unacceptable! We live and work in a free country."

The lawmaker says that an extension of hours of business is an absolute priority for the Flemish liberals: "Obliging shops to close at 8PM is not of this age."

Mr Van Quickenborne believes some shopkeepers would like to stay open later in order to be able to compete against internet shops. Concept shops, where you can make purchases, but also get a bite to eat and a drink, may like to stay open later too. Later opening hours would also benefit two income households with both earners at work during the daytime.

The small businesses association Unizo is no big supporter of the measure. It says there are already opportunities for shops to vary opening hours and points to the fifteen days a year shops can organise evening shopping. Unizo says few shops use these opportunities because there is little demand for late opening.

The idea has also received the thumbs down from the Flemish Christian democrats, socialists and greens.