One day before Parliament began debating a controversial bill on pharmacies, pharmacy and media businessman Margus Linnamäe made a donation of 10,000 euros to then government member IRL.
The bill, submitted by Margus Tsahkna of IRL, would make it far harder to set up new pharmacies, giving the current pharmacies a large advantage over any newcomers, Eesti Päevaleht reported on Tuesday. Those limits would disappear in June after the Supreme Court ruled that existing regulations must be abolished.
The Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder initiated the deregulation at the beginning of last year. The Supreme Court affirmed Teder's deregulation plan.
Experts fear many rural pharmacies will go bankrupt when faced by competition, saying that the restrictions entrench market control by large chains. However, some chains such as Yliopiston Apteekki of Finland, which has a few stores in Estonia, have welcomed the Supreme Court's ruling, saying that they have not been able to enlarge in in the country due to existing regulations and want to establish pharmacies in rural areas.
The two main lobby groups for pharmacists and pharmacies, respectively, called the decision "patient-unfriendly", saying it would create confusion and a profusion of less reliable "quick pharmacies" as well as drug safety problems.
A new bill is currently being discussed by the Parliament Social Affairs Committee. It will provide support for pharmacists willing to start their work in rural areas, establish the regulations for businesses. The discussions are set to continue tomorrow.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs said that pharmacies are subsidized by the state, so it is a complicated affair to replace the existing regulations. As part of the move towards providing a wider range of service to rural areas, Estonia launched its first e-pharmacy in November.
Both Linnamäe and Tsahkna, deputy chair of the Social Affairs Committee, have denied any link between the donation and Tsahkna's bill.
Linnamäe recently announced the acquisition of 55 percent of media company BNS. He was the financier of the Eesti Meedia, owner of Postimees, management buy-out last year, and owns 50 percent of the group. He controls Magnum, which is in the medicine wholesale business but also owns dozens of Apotheka brand pharmacies.