Pharmacy Ownership Laws — Europe

Many European countries employ Pharmacy Ownership Laws to ensure quality medical care. Sixteen E.U. member states regulate pharmacy establishment, and 13 of them have Pharmacy Ownership Laws that require pharmacists hold the majority stake in pharmacies.

These laws take different forms based on geography and demographics. In Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and France, among other countries, licensed pharmacists must own the majority of a pharmacy. Germany caps the number of pharmacies that a pharmacist can own at four locations, while Spain, France, and Greece have laws to ensure even distribution of pharmacies in parts of the country.

Throughout the E.U., “Pharmaceutical distribution is regarded as part of the healthcare system,” explains a 2014 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and is “therefore subject to certain public obligations that are established by national regulators.” Such “entry regulations” are common for other professions in Europe as well, including in architecture, engineering, and legal advice.

For years, the E.U.’s European Commission tried to challenge member states’ Pharmacy Ownership Laws as barriers to trade, but repeatedly lost in court.

In one of the cases, in 2009, the European Court of Justice upheld the laws in no uncertain terms. The Court ruled that, though these laws do restrict the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital, they are justified because they ensure safe and high quality medical care. The Court found:

“It is undeniable that an operator having the status of pharmacist pursues, like other persons, the objective of making a profit. However, as a pharmacist by profession, he is presumed to operate the pharmacy not with a purely economic objective, but also from a professional viewpoint. His private interest connected with the making of a profit is thus tempered by his training, by his professional experience and by the responsibility which he owes, given that any breach of the rules of law or professional conduct undermines not only the value of his investment but also his own professional existence. Unlike pharmacists, non-pharmacists by definition lack training, experience and responsibility equivalent to those of pharmacists. Accordingly, they do not provide the same safeguards as pharmacists.”

The European Commission finally dropped the most recent of its actions against pharmacy ownership laws in 2011.

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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.