Unions have predicted that only one in ten French pharmacies will be open on Tuesday as part of a national protest against plans to deregulate some of France’s most restrictive – and lucrative – professions.
Pharmacists will be perhaps the most visible strikers, but lawyers, doctors, dentists, notaries and bailiffs are also expected to down tools for parts of the day. A mass protest is planned for 12:30pm in front of the Senate in Paris.
The self-employed professionals are angry about legislation proposed in July which aims to chip away at the monopoly enjoyed in these professions and which the government believes is resulting in the public being overcharged.
One proposal in the legislation would allow the caps to be lifted on the number of students in fields like general medicine and surgery. Another feature would end the requirement that a pharmacy be owned by a registered pharmacist.
Unions responded by sending out a flurry of press releases slamming the assertion they were digging too deeply into the pockets of the French people.
“Masseurs and physical therapists are under no circumstances responsible for stealing the buying power of the French,” wrote physical therapist’s union Fédération Française des Masseurs-Kinésithérapeutes Rééducateurs.
The fuss might be over nothing because the minister pushing the reforms, Arnaud Montebourg, was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle last month and his successor has already distanced himself from the proposals.
“The industrial action this Tuesday is totally legitimate…but it’s a protest against the preconceived ideas of a bill that is not mine,” Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told French paper Paris-Normandie.
Montebourg had said the reforms would return the equivalent of €6 billion in buying power to French consumers left weary by record unemployment and a stagnant economy. Macron warned that his predecessor's promise was unreal.
“We’re not going to solve France’s problems by sacrificing notaries or pharmacists. We musn’t tell fibs,” Macron said earlier this month. “I’m not going to say that this will return €6 billion in buying power to the French. It’s not true. It’s an illusion.”
The controversy first hit the headlines earlier this summer in a report leaked to French financial newspaper Les Echos.
It said France’s Inspection Générale de Finances (IGF) had named 37 regulated professions that are making more money than any other economic sector while at the same time sending out hefty bills.
Topping the black list were “greffiers” in commercial courts, who are similar to recorders or clerks. "Greffiers" made €44 in profit out of every €100 their clients paid them. That means their average net pay per month is around €10,000, Les Echos claimed.
The IGF found the rate of profitability for the 37 trades it earmarked is some 2.4 times the rate for the rest of the economy.
The reason being the professions are protected by entry barriers such as education, but also minimum required fees and a monopoly for performing certain functions.
Another leaked report took aim at pharmacies monopoly on medicines.
According to IGF, pharmacies have pushed up the prices on certain over-the-counter medicines in order to make up for the prices of certain medicines the government has kept artificially low.
The result is that a box of aspirin can cost anywhere between €1.30 and €4.95 depending on which pharmacy you shop at.
By opening the market up to competition from supermarkets, for example, IGF believes prices could be driven consistently lower across the range of medicines available over the counter.