ATHENS, Greece — Antonios Avgerinos, 59, a retired army pharmacist, always wanted his own pharmacy here. And why not? Greek law ensures that pharmacists get a 35 percent profit on all drugs sold, even over-the-counter medications.
But Greek law also limits just about everything else about pharmacies. They must be at least 820 feet apart and have a likely market of no fewer than 1,500 residents. To break into the business, an aspiring pharmacist generally has to buy a license from a retiring one. That often costs upward of $400,000.
“It is an absurd system,” Avgerinos said recently. “But it has been that way my whole life.”
Maybe not for much longer.
As the government of Prime Minster George Papandreou struggles to get the nation’s financial house in order — reducing the size of its civil service, chasing after tax evaders and overhauling its pension system — it has also begun to tackle a much less talked about problem: the cozy system of “closed professions” that has existed here for decades, costing the economy billions of dollars a year.
These efforts have prompted almost weekly strikes in the past few months from interest groups firmly opposed to breaking down the barriers to entry in lucrative professional niches. But experts say that much is at stake: Greece’s ability to service its tremendous debt to other European countries and avoid default rests on the government’s ability to inject more competition and dynamism into its sclerotic economy.