One of the many minor battles within the larger Greek crisis has been the free sale of OTCs. The Troika (European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank) has long advocated the release of OTCs from pharmacies as part of Greece’s economic reforms to boost competition and indeed the measure was passed by Parliament under the Antonis Samaras government in March last year, along with a lift on the ban on multiple-pharmacy ownership.
OTC free sale didn’t actually become a reality however and when Syriza came to power in January promising Greek pharmacists to back their “not one tablet in supermarkets” stand, it seemed that it was out of the question. But increasing Troika pressure has meant that Syriza has had to include OTC liberalisation as part of its latest reform proposals in negotiations, despite pharmacists closing stores in protest last month.
Sadly, it may be too little too late for Greece. As with so many of the government’s promises to its creditors over the past 5 years, it has come to nothing, owing to the wish to placate the plethora of Greek pharmacies – almost 1 to every 1,000 citizens, one of the highest rates in the EU. This is difficult to comprehend when hospital budgets for equipment and more serious medicines have been cut to so little for so long.
Perhaps one of the saddest aspects is that in the grander scheme of things, the free sale of OTCs was a relatively minor requirement from creditors, considering the grave situation Greece found itself in even 5 years ago, and quite possibly it may have had little to no effect on boosting trade. But the absence of effort from the Greek government in the eyes of the Troika, unlike Italy or Spain, to even give this modest policy a go has probably been simply yet another reason for creditors to refuse both more money or credit extensions.