Liberalization bill is rolling

Dozens of so-called closed professions, which benefit from barriers to competition and minimum fees, will be liberalized in about four months from now, according to a draft law approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday.

The government has already been given a rough ride in its attempt to open up pharmacies and legal services. Pharmacists will today be on the second day of a three-day strike that will be repeated next week. Lawyers are also on strike until the end of the week. Both are protesting attempts to liberalize their professions.

However, PASOK has become somewhat battle-hardened to this type of reaction after a lengthy standoff with truck owners following attempts to open up the road haulage sector last summer, which brought Greece to a standstill several times.

The bill presented by Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou could bring the government in direct opposition to a number of other professionals, including notaries, architects and civil engineers.

The bill seeks to stop these professions from charging minimum fees for their services and would instead create a free market. The minimum charges were created to ensure that each profession?s social security fund would receive the necessary contributions to provide health coverage and pensions to its members.

Notaries will be an exception as the constitution defines them as state functionaries and their charges are set by law. The bill, however, will ensure that these charges are capped.

The draft law will be open to public consultation until January 25. The legislation foresees that all closed professions will be deregulated within four months of the bill being voted through the House.

?These are just some of the major changes that lie ahead of us over the next few months,? Prime Minister George Papandreou told his ministers. ?The way things are done in this country is changing.?

Papandreou was keen that the government should be as transparent as possible about the liberalization law after drawing stinging criticism last December for rushing other reforms through Parliament without allowing MPs to debate them properly.

However, according to sources, some ministers suggested that Papaconstantinou had failed to strike a chord with the public over the imminent liberalization reforms as he had simply presented them as measures that would help the economy grow. Instead, the ministers suggested that he should have made for of an effort to present the measures as being socially just. For instance, in the case of pharmacists the law would prevent them from handing operating licenses down to their children, which would give pharmacology graduates who do not have a parent who is a pharmacist a fairer chance of obtaining a permit to open their own store.