Ownership requirements of pharmacies in the EU
In contrast to some other countries, the owner of a community pharmacy in Germany must be a pharmacist. A pharmacist may own one main pharmacy and up to three subsidiaries. Three requirements apply to the establishment of subsidiaries: First, the pharmacist manages the main pharmacy himself or herself. Secondly, he or she employs a responsible pharmacist in each of the subsidiaries. Thirdly, all subsidiaries must be located within the same or a neighbouring district.
In 2009, the European Court of Justice confirmed that each and every EU member state can take its own measures to guarantee a high level of consumer protection. In this context, Germany’s ownership requirement were ruled to be perfectly in line with EU law and considered effective measures of consumer protection.
With its restrictions on the number of subsidiaries and the qualification of its owner, Germany is no maverick within the European Union. The majority of pharmacies in the EU are located in member states where similar restrictions apply as in Germany. Less than half of all EU pharmacies operate in member states without such ownership requirements. In fact, not many of the EU pharmacies belong to pharmacy chains.
The ownership requirements in Germany were sometimes called into question. However, there are good reasons to preserve the status quo: The current system of prescription drug distribution - from the manufacturer via the pharmaceutical wholesaler to the community pharmacy - is very safe and highly regulated. Therefore, big companies could hardly improve anything. However, there is a danger for all patients that chain pharmacies may not provide independent advice as their owners (e.g. manufacturers) are driven by commercial interests and only aim at selling certain products. In particular, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are susceptible to creating additional demand which may lead to abuse and danger to one's health and life.