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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

March 7, 2010

EU initiative to protect Sunday

[with comments]     Filed under Life in Europe

A special conference to relaunch the debate on protecting Sunday as a work-free day at the European level will be held on March 24, 2010 at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The conference is being organized by European Parliament members Thomas Mann from Germany and Patrizia Toia from Italy, along with the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation. (The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is a German research foundation linked with Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party. The CDU traditionally supports Catholic social and family policies.) Several European trade unions and church organizations are supporting the conference. László Andor, the new EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs will take the floor, as well as numerous experts and other members of the European parliament.

The initiative is not directly tied to the concept of a religious day of rest. However, it does highlight Sunday as the day of the week that should be kept free from work. The European Commission will soon be presenting a new draft of the "Working Time Directive." In its initial 1993 version the Directive stipulated that Sunday should be – in principle – the weekly day of rest for European workers. This reference was withdrawn in 1996 by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that the European Parliament had not given sufficient reasons to establish a link between a work-free Sunday and the protection of workers’ health.

Since the court decision in 1996 studies have demonstrated the existence of a strong link between workers’ health and a work-free Sunday. Another argument put forth by the organizers of the conference is that "a common weekly rest day for the whole of society allows families to spend time with each other, and all citizens to engage in cultural, spiritual and social activities. Sunday moreover strengthens the social cohesion of our societies, which has been undermined by the current economic crisis. It therefore represents a precious achievement, which should be recognized as a pillar of the European Social Model."

The basis for the initiative is the EU Treaty of Lisbon. With the ratification and implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, EU citizens have a new tool to take part directly in European decision-making. The consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union states In Article 11.4:

"Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties."

The organizers of the March 24th conference hope to achieve the goal of gathering one million signatures in support of the initiative.

A citizens’ group supporting the conference adds another reason for a work-free Sunday: "Mom and dad belong to us on Sunday." The statement is a slightly edited version of an old labor union slogan which appears to be more up to date than ever before. "Many children suffer from the so-called ‘flexibilization’ of the labor market. Children have a right to their parents and vice versa. We can only protect children, if their parents have time for them. With a free Sunday, there is at least one fixed spare day a week. This is why we demand a free Sunday in Europe."

The group lists other reasons for a work-free Sunday:

• According to EU legislation, Sunday is the weekly rest day for children and adolescents.

• Schools and public institutions never used to work on Sundays and do not intend to do so in the future – despite various religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

• "Every person needs spare time – to relax, to be active in civil society, for hobbies and for religion."

• A work-free Sunday is an essential pillar of the European Social Model and a part of the European cultural heritage.

It should be noted that Sunday as a part of the European cultural heritage is directly linked to Roman emperor Constantine’s declaration of Sunday as the Christian day of rest and worship at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.

Comment from Sheri Benjegerdes:

My thoughts and best wishes are with you. I so enjoy reading all your articles about happenings in Europe. Keep the faith!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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