The ECJ upheld the German ban on outside ownership of pharmacy shops, ensuring that only qualified pharmacists are allowed to run pharmacy shops, and pharmacy chains will remain banned. A German pharmacist is only allowed to own up to four separate establishments.
The judges argued that the limitation on ownership is justified as it ensures a safe and high quality medical service.
The judgment is a potential disaster for pharmaceutical dealers Doc Morris and Celesio, who had been banking on a liberalization of the market and were planning to move into Germany's lucrative pharmacy network. Celesio, which runs 2,300 pharmacies in Europe outside Germany, saw its share price drop by nine percent immediately after the decision was announced.
The judges followed the opinion of EU Attorney General Yves Bot, who backed the German law at the end of last year. German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt joined various associations of German pharmacists in welcoming the decision.
“This is a good day for consumer- and patient-protection in Germany and Europe. The outside ownership ban ensures qualified medical assistance for patients through independent and self-employed pharmacists,” Fritz Becker, chairman of the Association of German Pharmacists (DAV) said.
Doc Morris remained defiant despite the defeat, insisting the company would continue to expand.
“There will be Doc Morris pharmacists in every town, on every significant street corner and in many supermarkets,” declared company head Ralf Däinghaus in the news daily Handelsblatt. “We are sticking to our target of 500 franchise partners by 2011.”
Franchise pharmacies carry the Doc Morris logo, but are owned by individual pharmacists. According to Däinghaus, there are already 150 in Germany.
German main street drugstores Schlecker and DM had also hoped that the court would sanction a liberalization of the drug market, allowing them to start selling medications.