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Brussels, 16 February 2011

Internal market: Commission requests Greece to end restrictions on wholesalers’ right of establishment

The European Commission has today decided to ask Greece to remove the obstacles to the freedom of establishment for wholesalers of fresh agricultural products and fresh meat at and within a radius of 2 km of the central markets in Athens and Thessaloniki. At the moment wholesalers in these zones must establish themselves within the central markets, but in practice there is no more space available there. The Commission considers that Greece is not complying with the provisions of the Treaties and the Services Directive. Its request to Greece takes the form of a reasoned opinion. If the Greek authorities do not respond in a satisfactory manner within two months, the Commission may take the matter to the Court of Justice.

What is the purpose behind the EU rules concerned?

The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union requires the Member States to ensure respect for the freedom of establishment (Article 49), which is essential for the proper functioning of the Single Market in that it allows businesses to operate throughout the Union. The Services Directive also seeks to guarantee the principle of the freedom to provide services by removing legal and administrative obstacles to trade in this sector. The Directive covers a wide range of activities accounting for some 40% of GDP and employment in the Union.

In what way does Greece not comply with the rules?

At the moment, in the Athens and Thessaloniki regions, fresh agricultural products and fresh meat must be sold at the central markets. Furthermore, setting up a wholesale business for fresh agricultural products and fresh meat within a radius of 2 km of the Athens and Thessaloniki central markets is not allowed. However, in practice, there is no more space available inside the central markets. If such a space does become free, it can only be rented on the basis of a decision by the public liability company in charge of managing the central markets. The procedure for obtaining a space in a central market involves economic considerations, or at least criteria which are not sufficiently clear, precise, objective or stipulated beforehand. This renders access very random, if not impossible. Moreover, the procedure is such that access to available spaces is granted on a preferential basis, for example to wholesalers who are already present in the market.

The Commission feels that the restrictions on establishment and the procedure for obtaining a space applied by the Greek authorities cannot be justified in the light of the fundamental principles of the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provided services, which are guaranteed by the Treaty and the Services Directive.

Which problems does this situation pose for EU citizens and businesses?

Wholesalers wishing to establish themselves in order to do business in the Athens and Thessaloniki regions find it impossible to do so. The operators already in place are essentially Greek companies which, through the freezing of new spaces, enjoy a privileged situation and protection against new competitors. This state of affairs might also encourage collusion between wholesalers already established in the central markets, with all the repercussions this could entail for end consumers.

More information

The Single Market for Services:

Latest information on infringement proceedings against Member States:

To find out more about infringement proceedings, see MEMO/11/86

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