Governmental incompetence and the economy in today’s Hungary

It often happens to me–and I assume that I’m not alone–that I have so much news to digest daily that some important item passes me by. Or that I have a kneejerk reaction to a piece of news that is only partially informed because I don’t grasp all of its consequences.

This is what happened when I first heard about LMP’s idea to limit the size of supermarket chains and department stores. I became even more worried when Fidesz discovered that the idea might serve its own nationalistic and political purposes. Parliament within a few weeks passed a law stipulating that the maximum size of a department store or supermarket would be 3,300 square feet. If a company wants to build a bigger store it has to apply for an exemption.

This in itself is nonsense and certainly doesn’t serve the interests of the consumers. Moreover, it gives an opportunity for corruption and discrimination. If the owner has government connections, the Ministry of National Economy–György Matolcsy’s domain–will approve the application. If it is a foreign company, no exemption will be granted.

Well, this is exactly what happened even as the Hungarian construction industry was practically dead.  According to Bloomberg, the Ministry’s statistics on granting exemptions are grim. The German discount retailer Lidl applied just this year for 14 exemptions but none was approved. Capital investment that is so badly needed today is drying up, and this limit on new store sizes “symbolizes the uncertain environment in which developers must work.” The dreadful situation that this decision created became obvious only a few months after its adoption.

This is also what happened with the law on the ownership of pharmacies passed a year and a half ago. At the time I listened to all sorts of interviews with people who were for or against the new law. But the real horror of this law didn’t hit me until this morning when I listened to an interview with a man from Pécs who together with his extended family, which includes three pharmacists, owns nine pharmacies. It looks as if he will be forced to sell a 51% stake in these pharmacies to his employee pharmacists, most of whom are not even interested in the deal. What kind of democracy is it where one has only limited economic opportunities? How can anyone think they can do this  in a capitalist society? Well, Viktor Orbán and his friends obviously have no such compunctions.

But let’s go back a little on the topic of pharmacies. The privatization of pharmacies began after the change of regime, and by 1994 all pharmacies were in private hands, though the new owners had to be the pharmacists themselves. There was also a restriction on the number of pharmacies based on geography and demographics, a practice that at the time was not unique in Europe. Since then, however, the rules have pretty much been lifted in sixteen countries.

In Hungary the liberalization of the rules and regulations governing pharmacies took place in 2006. You may recall the upheaval. Pharmacy owners, with the political help of Fidesz, objected to any Tom, Dick, or Harry opening a pharmacy in any old place he wanted. They also objected to the sale of over-the-counter medications like Aspirin in supermarkets and gas stations. Certainly losing their monopoly on the sale of Aspirin and other similar medications cut into the existing pharmacies’ profit.

But there was definitely a need for more pharmacies, and once the geographic and demographic restrictions were lifted 600 new pharmacies opened. Also, after 2006 ownership was no longer restricted to pharmacists. Wholesalers and even pharmaceutical companies, including foreign companies, could own pharmacies as long as there was a pharmacist present at all times.

Proudly announced:
Pharmacy owned by Hungarian pharmacist

The new law passed on December 20, 2010 included all sorts of amendments to the 2006 CLXXIII Law. One of the most important of these amendments specifies that a company–as opposed to a person–can “own” a pharmacy only if at least 51% of the business is owned by the pharmacist on the spot. The rationale? “The more secure and better service of the patients.” What? Why?

This change of ownership will take place in two stages. By January 1, 2014 the pharmacist or pharmacists will have to own 25% of the business and by January 1, 2017 they will have to own more than 50%. Even those who are behind this madness have to admit that the salaried pharmacists simply don’t have the money to fulfill their “obligation” of owning  25% of the pharmacy they are working for. They would need massive government help to do so.

From here on pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers, and people that already own at least four pharmacies are not allowed to expand and acquire more stores. They are not being forced to get rid of what they currently own, but they still have to sell more than 50% of their business to their employees.

Although the law doesn’t specifically mention the ownership of pharmacies by foreign companies, I have the distinct feeling that this law also aims at restricting their role in the retail sale of drugs. First of all, I learned from an interview from last January with the head of the Association of  Pharmacists, who is very happy with this new law, that foreign companies were planning to expand their pharmacy chains, in his opinion a very bad development. By way of explanation he could say only that selling pharmaceuticals is “in the national interest” (nemzetpolitikai érdek). He also had no rational explanation of why service would be better if the pharmacists owned 51% of the business.

One thing, not in the interest of the consumer, is definitely true: the price of drugs will go up due to the small size of the businesses. If someone has 20 pharmacies and can take advantage of bulk orders that pharmacy will be able to sell for less. Moreover, due to all sorts of other government restrictions on the price of drugs, pharmacies that are short on cash are unable to order larger quantities of the same drug. So, it often happens already that the customer is told that he will have to come back because this particular pharmacy doesn’t have the medication in stock.

I’m no constitutional lawyer, but this law must surely be unconstitutional. Even Barnabás Futó, the right-wing lawyer who takes up every case that in one way or another is connected to Fidesz, admitted during an early morning political program on MTV last January that this law was most likely unconstitutional. The pharmacists who are adversely affected asked Pál Schmitt not to sign the law, but they must have known that there would be no chance of Schmitt not signing something put in front of him.

So, here are two new laws, both of which will inflict terrible damage to an already fragile economy. And I didn’t even mention Hungary’s more than fragile, almost fractured democracy. How can all that be undone? It will take a long time, and I am not at all sure whether it can be done at all.

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40 comments

  1. These are indeed important developments. They are in potential violation of EU law (particularly if foreign firms can never get waivers that domestic firms get) and also in potential violation of the Hungarian constitution.

    Article M says:

    “(1) The economy of Hungary shall be based on work which creates value and freedom of enterprise.
    (2) Hungary shall ensure the conditions for fair economic competition, act against any abuse of a dominant position, and shall defend the rights of consumers.”

    But the provision of the 1989 constitution that guaranteed that Hungary is a “market economy” is now gone. That would have been the clause under which the old constitutional court would have decided the question and it had an elaborate jurisprudence on what market economies require.

    Why does that matter? The Constitutional Court has provisionally decided that its prior precedents are still “good law” in cases where the language of the old and new constitutions is nearly identical, which is true for many (though not all) of the rights provisions. But in a case like this, where the language to be interpreted is so different between the two constitutions, the Constitutional Court will treat the topic as if it has never issued opinions on point before. Or, at least, that is what Court observers would expect.

    So that means that we really don’t know how the Constitutional Court will interpret Article M.

  2. Kim Lane Scheppele :

    But the provision of the 1989 constitution that guaranteed that Hungary is a “market economy” is now gone. That would have been the clause under which the old constitutional court would have decided the question and it had an elaborate jurisprudence on what market economies require.

    Just one provision left out and here we are. These scoundrels must have though long and hard what to put in and what to leave out the new constitution.

  3. Eva,
    “Scroundels”? Much worse than that.
    It’s time for thinking people to sit quietly, contemplate their navel, and wonder what is going
    on and why.
    Grown men, supposedly bright, and patriotic Hungarians are deliberately sending the country
    down the road to ruin. Why would they do this?
    Well, one key answer is MONEY–A LOT OF MONEY. But corrupt governments, in Hungary or elsewhere, have ripped off their countries without setting up the ruin of their country.
    What gives, then?
    WHAT IS THE PRE-MEDITATED WRECKING OF THE HUNGARIAN STATE ALL ABOUT?

  4. I wonder what happens to a pharmacy where the employee-pharmacist does not have the money to buy his/her 51% ? Does the taxpayer pay for it somehow? Or do they have to close those pharmacies?

  5. This national legislation of maximum store sizes is ridiculous. In the US neither the federal nor the state governments get involved to this level. Local zoning rules define some requirements and in those cases where large stores are endangering small local stores, they are occasionally strictly applied. For example some Walmart super stores were stopped from opening by applying zoning laws.

  6. gdfxx :

    I wonder what happens to a pharmacy where the employee-pharmacist does not have the money to buy his/her 51% ? Does the taxpayer pay for it somehow? Or do they have to close those pharmacies?

    I don’t know. Maybe there will be a long line of pharmacists who will be dying to buy the stake that by that time will be very cheap.

  7. gdfxx :

    This national legislation of maximum store sizes is ridiculous. In the US neither the federal nor the state governments get involved to this level. Local zoning rules define some requirements and in those cases where large stores are endangering small local stores, they are occasionally strictly applied. For example some Walmart super stores were stopped from opening by applying zoning laws.

    The original LMP suggestion was supposed to give that right to the local communities but Fidesz naturally wouldn’t let locals to decide anything. Everything must be controlled from the center. This way no one makes a mistake and allow people who don’t deserve to open stores or stop those who according to Fidesz are deserving.

  8. “Pharmacy ownership laws are more prevalent in Europe. Eleven of the 27 European Union member states (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Spain) do not allow non-pharmacists to hold a majority stake in pharmacies.

    Some countries, such as Spain, allow licensed pharmacists to own only a single store and place geographic and demographic requirements on the pharmacy’s location. Other European countries allow pharmacists to own more than one store. In Germany, for example, a licensed pharmacist may own up to 4 stores.

    In 2009, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) upheld pharmacy ownership requirements in its member states. The ECJ ruled that, although these laws restrict the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital, they are justified because they ensure safe and high quality medical services. “Where there is uncertainty as the existence or extent of risks to human health, 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,” said the ECJ in a press release on the ruling.” http://www.ilsr.org/rule/pharmacy-ownership-laws/2833-2/
    Maybe a little more homework is needed……

  9. Another funny EU decision.

    Are hospitals only allowed to be owned an operated by physicians? And then what kind of physicians? Or all hospitals have to be strictly specialized, and someone with an earache can only go to a hospital owned and operated by an ENT specialist physician? As a matter of fact all patients must diagnose themselves first, to decide what kind of emergency room to go to. Otherwise how can the “safe and high quality medical services” be assured?

    After all, if a pharmacist is necessary to own a pharmacy, where nowadays the most used skill is to count pills form a large box, place them in a small box, print labels for the small box and yes, provide instructions to the patients about the side effects, then a hospital where people may be performed surgery on, definitely requires a much more stringent ownership and operational standards.

  10. I have not lived, just visited Massachusetts – but don’t they have a law there that restricts Walmart & other chains to open too many stores? The closest Walmarts to Boston are still in Quincy, Lynn & Framingham – just checked on google.

    The rationale given was to support small store owners.

    Of course, this law is terrible for the building industry – in Hungary or elsewhere.

  11. tappanch :

    I have not lived, just visited Massachusetts – but don’t they have a law there that restricts Walmart & other chains to open too many stores? The closest Walmarts to Boston are still in Quincy, Lynn & Framingham – just checked on google.

    The rationale given was to support small store owners.

    Of course, this law is terrible for the building industry – in Hungary or elsewhere.

    As gdfxx pointed out this kind of restriction is based on local zoning laws and not central government permissions. Huge difference

  12. Louis is right that pharmacy regulation constitutes a highly specialized and quite unusual area of European law. The Commission has been fighting the pharmacist-owner regulations for years and the ECJ has upheld them, though with a lot of language that indicates that the ONLY reason for upholding these regulations is to guarantee quality of service and supplies. If national legislation openly touted other motives, it is not so clear that the ECJ would approve.

    The cases that have been brought so far do not deal with the exclusionary effects of these laws – that they disproportionately benefit nationals of the country that has such regulation. i don’t know what the ECJ would do with that challenge.

    Box stores are widely permitted across Europe, but there is a move in a number of countries to do what Hungary is doing – which is to limit the size of the biggest ones. Here, too, I don’t imagine problems with EU law on this score because box stores, in the places where they exist, tend to have monopoly effects and a regulation based on the concentration of market share in these stores would no doubt meet with European approval.

    But here, too, i don’t know what the ECJ would do with a case that challenged the exclusionary effects of these laws, particularly in a place like Hungary where it would probably be quite easy to establish that the owners of box stores are disproportionately foreign nationals. A challenge on that ground might have real traction. .

    So while Louis is right that many countries limit pharmacy ownership — and he could have extended the point to crackdowns on box stores — a key EU law question has not yet been answered: Does the regulation discriminate against foreign nationals? So the Hungarian government would be wise to tread carefully here. That doesn’t mean that they will.

  13. Kim Lane Scheppele: “The Commission has been fighting the pharmacist-owner regulations for years and the ECJ has upheld them, though with a lot of language that indicates that the ONLY reason for upholding these regulations is to guarantee quality of service and supplies.”

    Very weak argument. I really wouldn’t mind hearing the justifications. I don’t think they could easily convince me. Why would a pharmacy’s quality of service and supplies owned by CVS less safe and those in another pharmacy owned by a pharmacist. I simply can’t fathom.

    It only tangentially belongs here but the idea of the state monopoly of tobacco that was introduced by János Lázár a few months ago came to mind. Why was this proposed change necessary? Allegedly because with fewer outlets demand for cigarettes would diminish. When the idea was criticized the government came up with the usual answer: “But this is how it is in Austria.” It was only about a week ago that I found out that Austria is leading the pack with tobacco consumption in whole of Europe. A lot of fat good it produced to have tobacco a state monopoly.

    Mind you, as it turned out the real purpose of making tobacco a state monopoly was the government’s desire to have a direct hand in the purchase of tobacco products. As we found out later Lázár’s proposed bill was written by the owner of the only Hungarian-owned tobacco company that has a relatively small share of the sales of cigarettes. Naturally, he wanted to have a larger one with government hand. I don’t know what happened but lately there is no word on this proposed bill. Perhaps it died a quiet death.

  14. London Calling!

    ‘Quality of Service’ and ‘Pharmacists’ are mutually exclusive in Hungary.

    There are too many small ‘shops’ with too little stock to be able to offer any degree of a decent ‘service’.

    My Partner’s mother requires a drug only available on prescription – and is as rare as rocking-horse manure in Hungary.

    As I reported before – there is no ‘service-level agreement’ with their customers. If it’s not in stock you just get the Hungarian ‘grimace’ with no offer to get it within a certain time. Or get it at all.

    After trying four ‘shops’ (And they really are shops with a white be-coated shop-assistants) – you give up. They peer out from glass storage shelves which are stocked with all the products you can buy cheaply in English supermarkets.

    But they can sell you a product with 25% of the active ingredient – off prescription – at four times the cost. And definitely not what the doctor ordered.

    The ‘supercilious’ attitude of the ‘white coats’ is completely unjustified.

    Quality of Service? Don’t make me laugh!

    And the doctor’s prescribe it KNOWING it’s not available.

    (Did she not pay enough ‘gratitude’ money?)

    What to do? Well we send it to her from England where it is available in the supermarkets – at Asda (owned by Wal-Mart) and Sainsbury’s – off prescription.

    I was told – on here – that some Hungarians nip across the border to buy their medications in Austria. (Can’t remember who – but a regular blogger here- sorry!) This must be occurring all around Hungary.

    Then you have another problem – My partner’s mother required a product called a ‘Lombafix’ as prescribed by a spine specialist.

    Where can you take this prescription? Not to a pharmacist – but to another group of ‘white coats’. These are the ‘Medical equipment specialists’. Can you get a ‘Lombafix’ at any of these? No.

    Again after trying three medical equipment shops – none had one in stock. But they were all willing to sell an inferior product – again off prescription at twice the price. The third one even lied about being the only shop that could obtain them. When the fourth shop offered to order it for a week’s time – and was the tiniest of them all – we accepted. So one week’s wait.

    All too often they were willing to sell an inferior, unpadded, spine support ‘off prescription’ – quite literally changing the specialist’s prescription.

    Again these shops are too small to carry any decent stock level – there is no quality of service – no integrity – and no stock!

    How can anyone survive being ill in Hungary?

    A simple question. Why can’t the supermarkets sell all off-prescription medicines? Yes – you do get a better quality of service.

    OK what the hell if these inefficient useless shops go out of business? They are a conspiracy against the poor suffering public. To exploit the sick and suffering is the meanest fraud of all.

    Regards

    Charlie

  15. It seems that in Hungary like in Germany e g pharmacists are a kind of “protected species”.

    But there is some change coming:

    In many EU-counties you find real on-line pharmacies (not the fake kind that sells blue pills etc …) where you can get otc drugs (Over the counter is the US definition of drugs you can get without prescription) at much lower prices and also prescription drugs (where the prices are often fixed, but you might get some rebate).

    My nephew uses one of these for all the family’s needs and gets really good prices and fast delivery too. Some otc medicines we buy in Hungary for the whole family because they’re cheaper – of course a town like Héviz is well off regarding pharmacies compared to a small town in East Hungary …

    BTW: We regularly visit CVS and Walgreen when on holiday in the USA (usually once a year) and also buy a lot of otc drugs for us and friends/family. For example Melatonin which helps with sleeping and jet lag is freely available in the USA.

    Generally the drugs business is a kind of Mafia business – and I’m not talking about forbidden drugs …

  16. I found the pharmacy situation in Hungary mystifying when I first visited eleven years ago. You couldn’t buy aspirin or paracetamol in supermarkets, but instead had to go to a strange little shop, apparently mostly stocked with herbal ‘remedies’ or folk ‘cures’ and even then they wouldn’t give you what you wanted, but instead a pain killer actually banned in many countries!

    Now, as a father of two young children who spend a lot of their time here, ‘mystifying’ has turned into ‘worrying’. We have now resorted to bringing over all the medicines, etc we might need when we visit, so we are as little dependent on Hungarian health’care’ as possible.

    What Orbán is doing is clearly madness, but he is right in one respect – Hungarian pharmacies DO need sorting out, and badly.

  17. From what Charlie wrote I must suspect that the problem cannot be legislation. Is that what he describes representative? I have never asked about how the medical system works in practice but next time I have an opportunity to ask, I will certainly do that.

  18. A little OT, but on the general theme of the shopping experience in Hungary:

    Whilst it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be, the standard of ‘service’ in many shops is still appalling. Staff are actively unhelpful, and often rude, and will always carry on a phone call, or chatting to another member of staff, or checking something mysterious in or around their till, rather than actually dealing with a customer.

    Often even large foreign chains will have only one or two tills open, so huge queues rapidly build up – and yet there are always numerous staff around doing God knows what. The concept of all staff being till trained and ‘queue busting’ seems entirely alien here, even in places like Tesco (whose staff, incidentally, can often be quite as rude and unhelpful as in ‘regular’ shops).

    And yet there are always plenty of staff available to follow ‘suspicious’ shoppers around the store. Woe betide you if you do anything really odd like picking something up off a shelf to look at it, spending a long time in one section, or even (horror of horrors) going back to a section you’ve previously been to. And the greatest ‘crime’ of all – not taking a basket. It doesn’t matter if you only want one or two things, if you haven’t got a basket, you are clearly a criminal. I have several times been questioned about my lack of a basket in Alexander’s – a bookshop!!

    And bus drivers are cut from a similar cloth. The ultimate busz crime? Wanting to buy a ticket from the driver! Can’t you see he’s got a bus to drive? And, anyway, he hasn’t got any change (they NEVER have any change). In fact, to the average Hungarian bus driver, the passengers are just a source of problems. He’d be a lot happier (and it’s always a he – women don’t seem to be able to drive busses here) without all these ruddy passengers on his bus, then he could throw it around corners and brake as suddenly and as hard as he likes, without some old biddy or moany woman with a pushchair and kids complaining.

    And put the air conditioning on? Just because it’s 36 degrees?! He’s all right in his cab, he’s got a decent breeze from his open window (open so he can smoke, of course). My wife actually had the audacity to ask for the AC to be turned on the other day (it was approaching 40) and the driver said he couldn’t because it wouldn’t work with all the windows open. My wife pointed out that the passengers had only opened the windows because the AC wasn’t on, but this made no impression. That’s their problem, he said, do you expect me to tell them to close the windows?!

    And last, but by no means least, the crazy pricing ‘logic’ in shops. We’re all used to the ‘budget’ pack costing more than the smaller one over here, but yesterday I found the most extreme case of this I’ve ever come across. A pack of 30 nappies was 1,500 Ft, but the larger (and presumably better value) pack of 46 nappies was 3,600 Ft – I could have bought 60 nappies for LESS than the price of 46! And this was in Tesco, a British owned store that would never dare to do anything as crazy in the UK. And it works the other way round too – a litre bottle of Cola is 269 Ft, but a half litre bottle is 229 Ft – just 40 Ft less. Why? Well, could it have something to do with the 500cl bottle being the most popular…

    And then there’s this nonsense of things costing something and 9 Ft – in a country where the 1 and 2 Ft coins are no longer legal tender!

    Hungary badly needs a powerful consumer organisation – like Which? in the UK.

  19. London Calling!

    O/T Just a little fact I found interesting – when I was given a ‘Hungarian’ aspirin!

    In England we spell aspirin with a small ‘a’ – as it is regarded as a generic. And is available in supermarkets here for as little as 15p (50Ft) (25 cents US) for a packet of 30.

    In other parts of Europe ‘Aspirin’ is spelt with a capital ‘A’.

    Aspirin is still protected by patent where it is sold with a capital ‘A’ owned by Bayer. Apparently, as part of WW2 reparations, Germany had to forgo the royalties from the drug – so anybody in the ‘Allied’ world can make it.

    Must have helped with all those headaches caused by the bombs!

    (And you all know that prehistoric man chewed willow bark when he had a toothache? Aspirin is medically called Salicylic acid – and the latin name for williow is salix! And aspirin is still being revealed as a wonder drug – but I have to stop now!)

    Regards

    Charlie

  20. Kirsten – it’s pretty bad. If the arrival of Orbán hadn’t made us decide not to live here, it would have been the state of the ‘health service’.

    Arrogant doctors, ancient hospitals, hours of waiting around, patients treated as if they were nothing but a problem, supposedly educated doctors prescribing herbal and folk ‘remedies’, an ‘awareness’ of patients’ needs and medical practise at least 50 years out of date, and the assumption that whatever is wrong with you, it can always be ‘cured’ with pills (even now, after 15 years, my wife finds it odd that doctors in the UK don’t always prescribe something).

    And that isn’t to mention the brown envelopes and the appallingly out of date attitude to maternity ‘services’ (being pregnant and giving birth are still regarded as if they were illnesses over here).

    There are exceptions – dentistry, for instance, is often excellent, and amazingly cheap. And, as always, if you’re rich things are much better – well equipped, comfortable hospitals, polite doctors, all the latest equipment – but, for the average patient, it’s best to stay healthy in Hungary.

  21. Re Charlie’s post – off-the-shelf packets of supermarket own-brand paracetamol (16 tablets) in the UK – 16p (60 Ft) – 1p a pill. In Hungary, from my experience, you can’t get unbranded aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen, but the pharmacist will happily bell you (eg) Nurofen, etc – which is EXACTLY the same drug, but sells for 20 times as much.

    And yet Hungarians (eg my wife) are convinced that their system of pharmacies are vastly superior. Why? Because you get to speak to someone in a white coat before they rip you off or sell you rubbish.

  22. Paul, you can buy cheaper paracetamol and ibuprofen from Hungarian chemists, still not as cheap as in Britain though. The cheapest paracetamol was called something like Efferalgan last time I checked, and they sell cheapo no-name ibuprofen in huge boxes, too. You need to ask for it specifically.

    Algopyrin (metamizol monosodium?) is available in most EU countries, usually on prescription. I showed it to my British GP and he OKed it for occasional headaches, though he can’t prescribe it. That ban is probably a bit outdated.

    But both you and Charlie are right: it is also my experience that Hungarian chemists stand out even in Hungary for providing very bad customer service.
    Not enough competition might be one of the reasons. Another one is that they perceive themselves to be part of the medical profession and show the same level of arrogance towards the patients.

    If your wife is a big supporter of Orban, did she still see the point of leaving the country? (We left more than 10 years ago, my English husband and I, then started the family here.)

  23. Oh, and aspirin’s is still available under the old Hungarian brandname Kalmopyrin, but I’m not sure how much cheaper it is than Bayer’s now.

  24. ” By way of explanation he could say only that selling pharmaceuticals is “in the national interest” (nemzetpolitikai érdek). He also had no rational explanation of why service would be better if the pharmacists owned 51% of the business. “

    What national interest?
    WTH! Everything is related to national interest, it is getting on my nerves! But in actual fact they are the scumbags!
    At least our Louis pointed out it is to ensure safe and high quality medical services.

    So far, my experiences with pharmacists have been pleasant, because I just ask for the particular medicine, she takes from the shelf, punch in the til, I pay and that’s it! Not to undermine the profession, they are just cashiers in white coats.
    I can’t help to wonder, if they limit to only 1 pharmacist per pharmacy, how much cheaper the drugs would have been for the average people and the poor.

    Right now we stock up on Kalmopyrin or any type “OTC” aspirin, whenever they is a sale at our pharmacy chain. Otherwise, it is just too expensive.

    —-

    Paul,
    Too bad you didn’t have good experience with services in your city.
    In my city (it is more like a big town), on average, our bus drivers and services have been friendly and there is one woman driver. Ok, one complain is I’d like to be stared at less :)

  25. & Paul, did this bus-incident happen in Debrecen? Because if yes, I share your wife’s fate: last time I travelled by bus there, I stood up for ourselves to the bus driver. What followed was a 5-minute heated theatrical performance between the driver and I, which the passenger audience enjoyed very much (I guess). As for me, I was shaking and swearing for the rest of the day…unbelievable, really.

  26. Eva S. Balogh :
    Kim Lane Scheppele: “The Commission has been fighting the pharmacist-owner regulations for years and the ECJ has upheld them, though with a lot of language that indicates that the ONLY reason for upholding these regulations is to guarantee quality of service and supplies.”
    Very weak argument. I really wouldn’t mind hearing the justifications. I don’t think they could easily convince me. Why would a pharmacy’s quality of service and supplies owned by CVS less safe and those in another pharmacy owned by a pharmacist. I simply can’t fathom.

    Yes, these are odd decisions of the European Court of Justice. The citations are (Case C-531/06 Commission v Italy and Joined Cases C‑171/07 and C‑172/07 Apothekerkammer des Saarlandes and Others [2009]. The Court only upholds such ownership regulations with respect to pharmacies. They declined to do so with regard to opticians and biomedical labs, among other sorts of medical establishments.

    Here’s the relevant quote from the most recent case on pharmacy regulation (Apothekerkammer):

    “It is true that such a rule excluding non-pharmacists constitutes a restriction within the meaning of Article 43 EC because it allows only pharmacists to operate pharmacies, denying other economic operators access to this self-employed activity in the Member State concerned. However, that restriction may be justified by the protection of public health, more specifically by the objective of ensuring that the provision of medicinal products to the public is reliable and of good quality. .. .

    “Since non-pharmacists by definition lack training, experience and responsibility equivalent to those of pharmacists and consequently do not provide the same safeguards as pharmacists, it follows that a Member State may take the view, in the exercise of its discretion, that, unlike the case of a pharmacy operated by a pharmacist, the operation of a pharmacy by a non-pharmacist may represent a risk to public health, in particular to the reliability and quality of the supply of medicinal products at retail level, because the pursuit of profit in the course of such operation does not involve moderating factors, such as training, professional experience and the responsibility that pharmacists owe, which characterise the activity of pharmacists.”

    Of course, if CVS or its European equivalent failed to put public health first, it would be out of business in a minute – but not before it caused damage. The ECJ seems to have been persuaded by the argument that pharmacists, as professionals, are more likely to safeguard high standards than are commercial enterprises that sell medicines among many other things.

    As i suspected, the Court does warn that if the rules regarding pharmacy ownership are interpreted to give nationals advantages over non-nationals, the Court would not approve of discriminatory enforcement. Here’s the relevant language (from Apothekerkammer):

    “According to settled case-law, Article 43 EC precludes any national measure which, even though it is applicable without discrimination on grounds of nationality, is liable to hinder or render less attractive the exercise by Community nationals of the freedom of establishment that is guaranteed by the Treaty.”

    So if the Hungarian government is enforcing these regulations in order to exclude non-Hungarians from the sector, then it can’t expect to hide behind EU law!

  27. “..in order to exclude non-Hungarians from the sector..”

    This is a more worrisome aspect than the health – or business side of the question.
    Just look at the sign above.
    Having a definitive emphasis on the nationality of the owner of a shop brings in some very ugly streak into the everyday life. If we accept this, should we expect later other distinguishing signs as well?

  28. The whole thing seems to me to be another attempt against those “bloody foreigners” – which is an illegal discrimination under EU laws. Reminds me of 200 years ago when Bavarians had to pay to get there wares to us Schwabs and vice versa …

    Don’t those idiots ever get it ? Either you have a united Europe and profit from it – or you stay outside …

    PS: Last week I got my ration of pills for the next three months in my German hometown – and there were at least five pharmacists (all with several years of university and a diploma) there selling everything from shampoo to ASS (Acetyl Salicyl Säure – that’s the generic name for Aspirin) …

  29. spectator :

    “..in order to exclude non-Hungarians from the sector..”

    This is a more worrisome aspect than the health – or business side of the question.
    Just look at the sign above.
    Having a definitive emphasis on the nationality of the owner of a shop brings in some very ugly streak into the everyday life. If we accept this, should we expect later other distinguishing signs as well?

    This is a very important observation and I was glad to find that such poster exists in order to illustrate the the danger of such a development. But I also saw the Hungarian tricolor flying in the shop window. And of course we all know about the time when there were signs announcing that this or that store was Christian-owned. Bad, bad!

  30. Dr Balogh: ” And of course we all know about the time when there were signs announcing that this or that store was Christian-owned. Bad, bad!”

    I also remember when the Schwabian butcher had a sign in his window in the fall of 1944 in Hungary “Magyarnak kutyanak nincs hus” (To dogs and Hungarians there is no meat.”

  31. wolfi :
    PS: Last week I got my ration of pills for the next three months in my German hometown – and there were at least five pharmacists (all with several years of university and a diploma) there selling everything from shampoo to ASS (Acetyl Salicyl Säure – that’s the generic name for Aspirin) …

    I live in a suburb, every supermarket has a pharmacy, in addition there are severel drugstores (Walgreens, Rite Aid) that have pharmacies, several Costco superstores that have pharmacies and there also are some small pharmacies (each of these establishments have at least on pharmacist on staff when they are open). When I googeled pharmacies within 10 miles, I got over one hundred of them. By the way, I take some medication regularly, that I buy on-line from a pharmacy that supplies my needs for 90 days at a time.

    What’s prescription based is decided by the Food and Drug Administration, based on their specialized advisory committee. Aspirin is not, and many others are not.

  32. To the pharmacy issue especially to gdxx’s comments. I also have to take two kinds of medications regularly. I get them via mail through my insurance provider. Very handy. The doctor’s prescription goes via e-mail and a week later it is in the mailbox.

  33. Louis Kovach :

    Dr Balogh: ” And of course we all know about the time when there were signs announcing that this or that store was Christian-owned. Bad, bad!”

    I also remember when the Schwabian butcher had a sign in his window in the fall of 1944 in Hungary “Magyarnak kutyanak nincs hus” (To dogs and Hungarians there is no meat.”

    Sure thing. At every street corner. If those German butcher did what you claim they would have been bankrupt in no time. After all, the Hungarians were in majority.

    But you know what! I don’t rely on my fuzzy memory. I will quote you an ad from a 1933 publication called Bercsényi Futár of the Turul Association in Pécs. Here it is: “Ne légy fukar, ha a bajtársi sajtóról van szó! Vásárolj hirdetőinktől, mert: 1. Jó árut kapsz, 2. Olcsón, 3. Keresztény cégnél vásárolsz.”Don’t be cheap when it comes to the press of the brothers-in-arms! Buy from our advertisers because 1. you get good merchandise; 2. it is inexpensive; and 3. you are shopping from a Christian firm.”

  34. Dr Balogh: “Sure thing. At every street corner. If those German butcher did what you claim they would have been bankrupt in no time. After all, the Hungarians were in majority”

    in the Fall of 1944, in that locality, they had plenty of non-Hungarian customers. Marketing never was or is based on nationwide population fractions.

  35. CharlieH :
    London Calling!
    ‘Quality of Service’ and ‘Pharmacists’ are mutually exclusive in Hungary.
    There are too many small ‘shops’ with too little stock to be able to offer any degree of a decent ‘service’.

    But isn’t it so quaint?

    How can anyone survive being ill in Hungary?

    Mother-in-law just went to the hospital with very low heart rate which I believe was partly related to heat exhaustion. I’m thinking best to get her out of there quick. The hospitals are so poorly ventilated and they are hotter then you could imagine!!! I’d be surprised if survival rates where any where near what they are in western Europe.

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