Parliament vote ends pharmacy monopoly

Sweden's parliament on Thursday voted in favour of the centre-right government's plans to open up the country's market for prescription and non-prescription drugs to competition.

“Parliament gave the government the green light to begin the restructuring process for Apoteket,” the chain of state-run pharmacies, it said in a statement.

The opposition Social Democrats, Left and Greens voted against the proposal.

The Apoteket chain of pharmacies is currently the sole provider of prescription and non-prescription medication in Sweden, meaning that Swedes wanting to buy a headache tablet or other over-the-counter products must go to one of Apoteket’s stores.

The government has previously argued that the proposed changes would improve the availability of medicines for customers in the form of more pharmacies and longer opening hours, and create downward pressure on prices as more providers entered the market.

The government expects both domestic and international interest in the Swedish pharmacy market.

In a first step, the government will create a new parent company that will own all the shares in Apoteket and which will be in charge of selling a number of Apoteket’s stores to private actors.

The necessary changes to remove Apoteket’s 35-year-old monopoly are expected to be in place by January 1st, 2009.