By Penny Bouloutza and Dimitra Manifava
The government’s hesitation in clashing with pharmacists, dairy producers, bakers and others has delayed the introduction of key market reforms proposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), leading Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to call on his ministers to speed up their reform efforts.
Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis and Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis disagreed openly during Saturday’s inner cabinet meeting about the sale of non-prescription drugs by supermarkets, with the latter stressing that this may put public health at risk. For his part, Hatzidakis insists that those drugs should be sold by supermarkets, too, saying that the reduction of retail prices requires the liberalization of this as well as other sectors. Development Ministry sources say that the reforms proposed by the OECD have secured the green light from Samaras and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
The development minister is being pressured by other colleagues of his on the issues of the period that milk can be considered “fresh” – the extension of which the Agricultural Development Ministry is opposed to – and on plans for the sale of bread by weight rather than by the loaf, with government MPs appearing reluctant to bear the brunt of another clash with professional groups.
Besides the Development Ministry’s main argument that consumers will benefit from the liberalization of the markets, a source close to Hatzidakis states that “this issue had better close in time as the government has many open fronts in its negotiations with the troika,” referring to the representatives of the country’s creditors.
On the issue of non-prescription drugs, the Health Ministry – eager not to open another front with the pharmacists’ unions after that with doctors – has proposed a compromise, saying that it would accept their sale at supermarkets provided this is done in a specific corner of the store with the presence of pharmacists, effectively a shop in a shop.