EU ruling may keep non-pharmacists out of pharmacies

20th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

While a European court ruled that Germany and Italy can restrict the ownership and operation of pharmacies to qualified pharmacists, the restrictions does not imply to all other member states.

Luxembourg – A European court on Tuesday ruled that EU nations can restrict the ownership and operation of pharmacies to qualified pharmacists, dealing a blow to pharmacy chains.

The ruling by the European Court of Justice concerned Italian and German cases but was eagerly awaited by major chains such as the German Celesio group or British Alliance Boots which have their sights on pan-European operations.

The stock markets reacted immediately, with Celesio shares dropping sharply.

Celesio subsidiary DocMorris, a Dutch discount pharmacy company, started the legal process by opening a low-cost pharmacy in Germany in 2006.

After a complaint by pharmacists, a German court ruled that only qualified practitioners were allowed to run a pharmacy.

The European Court was brought in as EU legislation at the same time enshrines the freedom of establishment.

A separate case was initiated by the European Commission which asked the court to rule that Italy's failure to open its pharmacies to non-pharmacists broke EU law.

However the Luxembourg court ruling Tuesday will not have pleased the supporters of a more open pharmaceutical market.

The court highlighted "the very particular nature of medicinal products, whose therapeutic effects distinguish them substantially from other goods."

Pharmacists are "presumed to operate the pharmacy not with a purely economic objective, but also from a professional viewpoint," it added.

While the court admitted that excluding non-pharmacists "constitutes a restriction on the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital" nevertheless "the operation of a pharmacy by a non-pharmacist may represent a risk to public health."

Therefore the court upheld the restrictions in Germany and Italy, while not suggesting that all 25 other EU member states should take the same path.

"It is important that a member state should be able to take protective measures without having to wait until the reality of those risks becomes fully apparent," the court said.

Celesio welcomed the ruling for providing clarity.

"It is good that clarity has now been provided from European law on the third-party ownership ban of pharmacies in Germany," said chief executive Fritz Oesterle.

"At least this ruling gives Celesio planning reliability for the time being."

Its subsidiary DocMorris "will now focus on expanding the brand partner business and mail-order activities," the company said.

AFP / Expatica

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