A German court on Wednesday ruled that a Dutch Internet pharmacy can operate a branch in Germany. Critics say that this will hurt the country's high standard for pharmacies.
The Doc Morris branch in Saarbrücken can remain open -- at least for now
Wednesday's ruling came after a pharmacist in the southwestern city of Saarbrücken had filed a complaint against a local branch of Doc Morris Internet pharmacy. The pharmacist had argued that German law only allowed pharmacists and not corporations to open pharmacies.
But citing the freedom of establishment under European law, state health officials had allowed Doc Morris to open shop a month ago.
Doc Morris officials, who do most of their business over the Internet, have said that they do not plan to open more branches in Germany -- the store in Saarbrücken is the only one so far.
Eroding Germany's pharmacy landscape?
A red "A" like the one in the background is the trademark for German pharmacies
Critics, however, fear that the case will set a precedent for other discount pharmacy chains, who could eventually do away with the country's established system of pharmacies owned by individual pharmacists.
Pointing to the German law against pharmacy chains, pharmacists' associations have already filed additional law suits against the Doc Morris branch.
"It doesn't make sense that German law is supposedly no longer valid," said Heinz-Günter Wolf, the president of the German pharmacist association, ABDA.
Beneficial for consumers?
But Josef Hecken, the health minister of the state of Saarland, where Saarbrücken is located, countered that Germans would benefit from discount pharmacies.
Could discount pharmacies help reduce the costs of Germany's health system?
"Medication of the same quality can be bought for less," said Hecken, who approved the Doc Morris branch. He added that liberalizing Germany's pharmacy landscape could also help to lower the country's overall health sector costs.
Other politicians also backed the decision.
"Finally someone from the (conservative) Union parties dares to show how expensive the protection of pharmacist privileges is for the insured," said Reinhard Bütikofer, the leader of Germany's Green party.