Court backs opening closed professions

A ruling by the country?s highest administrative court, deeming that Greek and European Union law dictates the opening of dozens of so-called ?closed professions,? could be the tool the government needs to remove the restrictions to occupations that are stubbornly resisting liberalization.

The decision by the Council of State?s plenary session, made public on Tuesday, notes that the ?right to free choice of profession and the absence of restrictions in exercising it? is enshrined in Greek and EU law. ?If those practicing a specific profession see their revenues fall, this is not a reason to bar new entrants to the sector,? the ruling says.

The development sets a strong legal precedent that could facilitate the government in its efforts to implement regulations aimed at opening up more than 130 professions ranging from taxi drivers to beauticians.

This list does not include certain key closed professions, which have been particularly vehement in their opposition to the proposed reforms, such as notaries, lawyers and civil engineers. These occupations are to be liberalized at a later date, the Finance Ministry has said.

The other professions, included on the list, were technically opened to competition on July 2 as part of the economic reforms Greece has been encouraged to make by its foreign creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But there has been little progress in implementation, chiefly due to unionist opposition.

It is expected that the court ruling will facilitate the various ministers in their dealings with professional unions and associations.

Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis, for instance, faced vehement protests last month by taxi drivers who blocked ports, airport and roads as part of a two-and-a-half-week strike against liberalization. The cabbies had threatened to stage new action as of next week if Ragousis insists on the full liberalization of their sector, as he has vowed to.

Essentially Monday?s ruling was the rejection of an appeal lodged by fuel truck drivers objecting to the enforcement of a law liberalizing their profession. As such, it is likely to discourage other unions from lodging similar appeals.