PositionEuropean Commission

With Germany, the European Commission has extended the list of member states targeted due to rules on pharmacy ownership judged to be too restrictive for the freedom of establishment in the EU.

Tactful on the matter, the EU executive sent a letter of formal notice to Berlin, which has two months to respond. The German minister confirmed receipt without commenting. This first stage in the Commission's infringement proceedings is likely to result, as a last resort (after sending a reasoned opinion), in referral to the EU Court of Justice.

According to German law, a single pharmacist cannot own more than four pharmacies - a measure which is supposed to protect public health. And only a pharmacist can be the owner of a pharmacy. These conditions prevent large distribution groups from entering the medication market.

Without contesting the general interest (accessibility to services), the Commission is not convinced that the restrictions in place are proportionate.

"Usually, member states and stakeholders justify these restrictions by the need to ensure the independence of the services provider, accessibility (particularly in geographic terms), the quality and the safety of pharmacy services," according to a study ordered by DG Internal Market and carried out by the consultant ECORYS Nederland, published on 1 February. Now, says the document, there is a strong "negative relationship" between the operating requirements (particularly the restrictions on ownership for people who are not pharmacists) and productivity.

The Commission hopes that this study will arouse reactions. France received a reasoned...

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