One of the most tightly controlled and regulated sectors in Greece is up to undergo a significant and long-stalled overhaul. During last week’s parliamentary work, a last-minute amendment, presented as a rider to an unrelated justice ministry bill, included legislation to open up pharmacies, repealing a series of restrictions that prevent new entrepreneurs from entering the field. The current legislation specifically regulates all aspects of operation, from working hours, to the kind of products sold, to the distance that should exist between chemist shops operating in the same neighbourhood. More importantly, it specifically states that only qualified pharmacists can be owners of pharmacies. All these regulations has prevented the industry from operating the way it happens in most advanced countries.

Opening up the sector has long been a demand by the country’s creditors, as well as a repeated and high-profile recommendation by intergovernmental organizations, such as the OECD and the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras seems to concede to the pressure, within the recent negotiations to conclude the third review of ongoing bailout. This is reportedly what caused the health ministry to re-table a new draft amendment liberalizing the pharmacy ownership sector. The draft bill sees that the sector to entrepreneurs that are not pharmacists, and possibly retailers, allowing for the sell of drugs at super markets, something that was met with fierce opposition by the chemist’s union. Last week, the head of the greater Athens area pharmacies’ association, Andreas Lourantos, took to the airwaves to claim that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had broken his promises over the issue. Tsipras had promised that non-pharmacists would continue to be barred from owning and operating – with trained pharmacists as employees – such businesses. “Not one (chance) in a million,” was the phrase he claimed Tsipras used.

The draf bill sees that a presidential decree must be issued to define the criteria for the opening of pharmacies Greece, taking into consideration a recent High Court decision on the matter, ruling in favour of pharmacies, but only in that the disregulation would have to be passed by law of Parliament, or by presidential decree, and not as a ministerial decision, like the previous government had attempted to do.